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Iris Ghalia by Ensar Oud

17th August 2022

 

 

Iris Ghalia by Ensar Oud makes for an unconventional iris but a reassuringly traditional Ghaliyah*.  It takes the gin-and-ice ethereality of orris and dispassionately sets it up to either thrive or fail against an onslaught by grungiest, most uncouth cast of characters ever licked up from a zoo floor – castoreum from the anal glands of a beaver, warm-scalpy costus root, calcified urine scraped off a rock (hyraceum), and saliva-ish musk grains scooped out of the undercarriage of some poor unsuspecting Tibetan deer.  And that’s before we even talk about the marshwater skank of natural ambergris.

 

Yeah, it was never going to be a fair fight.  If you have any experience at all, then you go into Iris Ghalia knowing that it is only a matter of time before quivering silver bloom of the iris is subsumed by the powerful animalics.

 

But the perfumer has sought to stack the deck a little in favor of the iris by flanking it with a sharp, fresh accord that is one third citrus peel, one third plant juice, and one third piano rosin.  Therefore, you get that first dopamine hit of warm, plush iris (smelling divinely of antique wood furniture, old books, and closed-up mansions) and just as the sugary deer musk bubbles up to nip at its heels, your nose flashes on the shrill, metallic greenery of violet leaf and the funky cat pee fruitiness of blackcurrant leaf.  Together these notes form a citric-resinous barricade around the iris, allowing it to stand up and assert itself just a little longer.

 

Iris Ghalia also benefits by being a spray and not an attar or an oily distillate, because a note as ephemeral as iris needs its own space (think a whole castle rather than a room).  For a while, the notes teeter, achieving a precarious balance between something very classical and something very grunge-indie-artisanal.

 

Of course, in the end, it is inevitable that the warm animalic notes begin to tighten around the trembling neck of the iris like a dirty fur stole.  The musks, which start out smelling as sweet and as dusty as powdered sugar sifted over a hot wolf, grow ever staler by the minute, a time-lapse video of animal fur collapsing into decay over the course of a week.

 

All this might prove heavy going indeed were it not for the persistent effervescence of a bright Coca Cola note running like ambient noise in the background.  I suspect that some combination of the iris and the powdery musks is what’s conjuring this effect.  But at times it also smells like all those minor aspects of benzoin – brown sugar, crackling brown paper, camphor, mint gum, and yes, Coca Cola – that only ever come out when benzoin is left alone to do its own thing rather than called in to serve as a member of the fantasy amber trope or as a rough stand in for vanilla.  No benzoin listed, by the way.  Pure conjecture on my part.  

  

Anyway, no matter how it’s configured, the contrast works.  And it seems to be a series of contrasts, rather than just one thing.   Notes-wise, you have something quite funky and animalic (scalpy) – the musks, the ambergris, and so on – jutting right up against something quite ethereal or even effervescent – the iris, benzoin, the powdered sugar of the Tibetan deer musk.  But there is also a textural contrast between the greasy/leathery and the dusty/sparkling.   In terms of ‘taste’, the contrast between the intensely sugariness of the musks and the sourness of the funky, leathery castoreum in the tailbone is clearly no afterthought either.  (Flanked by the saliva-ish musks, I find the murkiness of the castoreum to be very similar to the bases of other Ensar Oud scents, most notably Chypre Sultan, but the innovation here is all in that Coca Cola effervescence).    

 

All in all, a novel idea.  The sharp, greyish, concrete-like violet leaf (think Kerbside Violet by Lush) shoring up the elegant woodiness of the iris, the powdered sugar musks, the swelling chorus of animal gland secrete, just licked skin, and that miles-deep, bubbly Coca Cola sweetness.  Could I pull it off on the regular?  Probably not – it feels too much like hard work at times, and it is incredibly heavy.  Yet I found Iris Ghalia a tremendously exciting scent to wear.

 

*Ghaliyah, meaning ‘most precious’ or ‘most fragrant’ depending on the source, is a common type of mukhallat in the Middle East.  These were once all-natural affairs containing real ambergris, musks, oud, and spices, offered primarily to royal princes and members of the ruling class.  

 

 

Source of sample: Ensar Oud very kindly sent me a sample free of charge for review purposes (I paid a small customs fee).  I freely acknowledge that I am in a privileged position, as a fragrance writer, to receive free samples of the most expensive or rarest fragrances in the world.  The hope is that I perform some sort of service for the reader by reviewing them.

 

Cover Image:  Photo by Dorothea Bartek on Unsplash 

 

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Gatsby 22 by Ormonde Jayne

9th August 2022

 

Because I feel that I should love Gatsby 22, but definitely don’t, I have worn it heavily over the course of the summer to figure out how to describe it to someone who very well might.  All perfume reviewers have their blind spots, and here’s mine: I am terrible at describing huge floral-woody musks that are little more than a vague shape in the air.

 

Amber smells delicious, kind of like food.  Flowers smell distinctly of themselves, once you know what they smell like individually.  Incense smells like church.  Pine smells like the forest.   But to me, Gatsby smells less like the individual flowers or woods or vetiver referenced in the notes list, and more like an abstract (and ever-shifting) set of ‘moods’ caused by these notes bouncing off each other as they jostle around that expanse of sour, rubbery musk.  

 

Parts of it certainly smell good.  I appreciate the clean, bright citrus shifting into the spearmint tones of geranium, the tangy waft of violets, that Ormonde Jayne osmanthus with its high-end, peach fuzz suede, all washed down until shiny with benzyl salicylate water for that mild, sweet balsamic touch.  This familiar familial arrangement of Ormonde Jayne notes cannot fail to please.

 

But then again, these accords all come drenched in, and partially obscured by a woody musk material that screams eau de department store for once, rather than the usually palatable (to me) Iso E Super accord that Ormonde Jayne uses.  The effect of this particular woody musk is to make the more natural-smelling fruit and floral notes read as arch, highly stylized versions of themselves – glossy magazine inserts rather than the real thing.

 

Here’s the kicker.  I am not the young professional or cool girl/gal at whom it is aimed.  So, can I do this scent justice for the reader who does form part of this demographic?  Ormonde Jayne call Gatsby 22 edgy, but it took me a whole month of wearing it to figure out that they didn’t really mean that it smells edgy (it doesn’t) but rather that it has that clean, androgenous, Ambroxinated vibe that people who wear Glossier You or Tanagra by Maison de Violet or even Baccarat Rouge 540 find so sexy.  These are perfumes that smell like nothing at all but also like crushed gemstones, fresh air, sexual confidence, and the aspiration of personal wealth.

 

In other words, it is the abstraction of Gatsby 22 that matters.   Worn side by side with, for example, Bal d’Afrique (Byredo), a scent that goes for a similar sparkly champagne-lemon-vetiver vibe, it soon becomes clear that Gatsby 22 is much drier, more urbane, and far less literal than the Byredo (which suddenly seems quite ostentatiously gourmand-ish in comparison).  Gatsby’s tart woody musks act like a pour of the driest Vermouth on earth, swishing all the notes together into a blur of things that your field of perception sometimes catches (was that grappa?) but more often not (why am I not picking up on the vetiver?).

 

Gatsby 22 isn’t something I can see myself ever leaning into, but I appreciate that it made me work harder than usual to figure out why I don’t like it and, conversely, think more seriously about the person for whom it might be the best thing ever.  Because, as it turns out, those are two types of people whose tastes will never intersect on a Venn diagram.  And that’s ok too.

 

 

Source of sample:  Ormonde Jayne very kindly sent me a 50ml bottle of this free of charge for review.

 

Cover Image: Photo by Atikh Bana on Unsplash

 

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Hera by Papillon Artisan Perfumes

22nd May 2022

 

 

Two fragrances do not an evolution make, I’m aware.  But I can’t help feeling that Spell 125 and now Hera mark a departure for perfumer Liz Moores, away from perfumes that either reference classical styles (Dryad – a green chypre in the fashion of Vol de Nuit, Bengale Rouge – a spicier, more balsamic take on Shalimar or Emeraude) or espouse a particular trope like leathery incense (Anubis) or rose (Tobacco Rose).  Rather, Her and Spell 125 seem to be a bold move towards abstraction, wherein the perfumes are much more than a good smell – they are an expression of an idea.

 

Take the complete lack of literalism in Hera, for example.  You look at the notes and the description, and you think, ah, ok, a wedding bouquet perfume.  Lush, creamy white and yellow florals spilling over a whale-boned corset of puffy marshmallow musk.  Romantic, serene and beautiful in that conventionally feminine manner expected of brides.  But you don’t actually get any of that from Hera.

 

The first surprise is an atomic cloud of spicy violet-iris powder, a diffusive ballooning of molecules powered by what feels to me like aldehydes but is actually ambrette, a natural musk derived from the musk mallow plant.  The apple peel and grappa facets of the ambrette sharpen the violet sensation of the opening and feathers the whole thing into an ethereal mist.  But in no way does this smell pretty or candied or like face powder.  No dainty bridal pastilles here, no Siree.

 

There is also – immediately – the tarry benzene edge of Extra or First Ylang, announcing the first of the floral absolutes that don’t really smell like their usual floral representations in perfumery.  Ylang is always painted as banana-ish or custard-like, but in truth, the natural stuff (essential oil) often has this surprisingly creosote-like smokiness that most often gets smothered by perfumers with sandalwood or vanilla, in the hope of squishing it into a more banana custard shape.  Here, the ylang is uncut and unsweet.  And it definitely doesn’t smell like banana custard. 

 

The surprisingly true ylang in Hera is soon joined by a spicy Sambac jasmine – again, not the creamy, sweet white jasmine of conventional perfumery, but more the authentically leathery-sour twang of Sambac absolute.  The florals do not smell lush, sweet or traditionally feminine.  In fact, Hera does not even smell particularly floral.

 

The central surprise of Hera – its abstraction – is the way in which this tug of war between potent floral absolutes takes place inside this smoky cloud of iris-mimosa-violet powder, stacked one on top of another like a matryoshka doll.  It is an incredible feat of construction that turns florals as heavy as jasmine, orange blossom, and ylang into a fizzy, violet-colored ether.

 

With time, another layer of the matryoshka reveals itself as a murky accord that smells like tobacco but is probably ambergris.  This lends the perfume an aura of salty, powdered skin, like the glow on healthy young skin after mild exertion.  Momentarily, the interaction between the purplish dry-ice florals and damp, tobacco-ish ambergris produces an impression of Caron’s Aimez-Moi (which itself smells like a pouch of moist, tobacco leaves dotted with anise and dried violets).  But this impression is fleeting.

 

Hera feels spicy but remains utterly air-filled and diffuse, as if someone has tried and failed to plug cinnamon sticks and clove buds into an ever shifting dust cloud of wood molecules.  There is also something like myrrh, with its dusty, minty-latexy bitterness.  But Hera never gets bogged down in the thick, sweet thickness of resins, thus neatly sidestepping any effort to pigeonhole it as an incense.  Yet, the spices and the myrrh do give Hera a hint of what I imagine medieval candy might have smelled like, a sort of salty-herbal-fizzing concoction that, when ingested, banishes all evil.    

 

The perfume seems to deepen, but the overall sense of its construction – a complex whirligig of chewy florals and tobacco inside a bright, acidic haze of floral high C notes – remains consistent.  I picture Hera almost synesthesically, a violet-greige cloud of molecules that spark off each other like electricity.

 

It is an abstract experience, similar to the hard-to-define Spell 125 or even Seyrig (Bruno Fazzolari), but that’s not to say that Hera doesn’t also meet the original brief, which was to honor Liz Moores’ daughter, Jasmine, on her wedding day.  Indeed, Hera feels fizzy and bright and sensuous.  It smells optimistic.  

 

What Hera absolutely is not is a re-tread all the tired tropes of traditional bridal perfumery, so if you’re expecting something conventionally feminine or sweet, then park your expectations at the door.  Hera feels made for a lifetime of marriage – interesting, complex, wistful, packed with all the bittersweet moments of a relationships that morphs over time – rather than for one single shiny, glittery, picture-perfect day.  And in my opinion, it is all the better for it.  

 

Source of sample:  Sent free of charge to me by Liz Moores, with no expectation of a review, let alone a positive one. 

 

Cover image:  Photo by Łukasz Łada on Unsplash  

Attars & CPOs Floral Mukhallats Review Rose Spicy Floral The Attar Guide Tuberose Vetiver Violet White Floral Ylang ylang

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (T-Y)

17th December 2021

 

 

 

 

Tahani (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Tahani is an exotic floral blend with a touch of fruity Cambodian oud anchoring it at the base.  It opens with a very sweet, rich Taifi rose and the pleasantly bitter sting of artemisia.  Nuances of apricot, rum, and leather nudge things along towards what will hopefully turn out to be an orgasmic riot of white flowers.  (This is the kind of opening that portends good things to come).

 

Unfortunately, it loses the plot slightly in the heart, when the rich rose is joined by a soapy and far-from-brilliant white floral accord, which dulls the bloom on the other notes.  The ambergris in the base does its best to fan some life back into the florals, its salty radiance for once more bitter and foresty than warm, which gives the scent a chypre-like mossiness that works against the bright, fruity rosiness of the opening.  On balance, Tahani is fine but not worth the price of admission.

 

 

 

Tasnim (Tasneem) (La Via del Profumo/ Abdes Salaam Attar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Tasnim (otherwise known as Tasneem) in eau de parfum format is one of my favorite ylang compositions of all time.  Its buttery, creamy banana custard is touched here and there by rubber, and given a gentle, steadying backbone of dusty woods and resins.  It smells – for lack of a better word – dreamy.  Like custard clouds whipped up by Botticelli angels.  In the late drydown, there is a wonderful texturization akin to almonds or hazelnuts pounded down to a fine paste with cinnamon and clove.  Although it ultimately winds up in the same vanilla-banana-lotion area as Micallef’s Ylang in Gold, it remains resinous and nutty rather than fruity.  Think of it as a higher IQ version of the Micallef.

 

The attar (or more accurately, mukhallat) version of Tasnim is similar to the original eau de parfum, but because it stresses different facets of the ylang and for longer, it smells quite different for the first two to three hours.  Specifically, the slightly pungent rubber and fuel-like tones of the ylang are brought out more clearly, complete with the melted plastics undertone inherent to pure ylang oil.  The opening is not unpleasant, but it might be a little odd for people unused to the super potent (and not terribly floral) nuances of raw ylang.  In terms of complexity, I prefer the opening of the eau de parfum because it is both softer and more traditionally ‘perfumey’, whereas the opening of the attar smells more like ylang essential oil.

 

The attar stays in this fruity banana-petrol custard track for much longer than the eau de parfum, affecting both the texture and the ‘feel’ of the scent.  Namely, the eau de parfum possesses an innocent, fluffy softness that I visualize in pastel yellow, while the attar is a bright, oily concentrate – a Pop Art yellow smear of gouache.

 

The drydown is where the attar truly shows its mettle.  In fact, the ever-evolving complexity of the drydown is a good example of where the attar format often trumps the alcohol-based format.  In oil format, the naturals continue to unfold and retract in somewhat unpredictable ways, while the development of the alcohol-based format evolves to a point and then stops.  So, while the eau de parfum displays a beautiful, nutty ‘feuilletine’ finish folded into gentle puffs of woodsmoke, the attar just gets spicier, lusher, and more bodaciously sensual.

 

Tasnim attar is also less sweet than the eau de parfum, a pattern I notice in all direct comparisons of the attar versus the eaux de parfum for this house.  (This feature might make the attars more attractive to men).   The attar eventually dries down into a rich, leathery ylang-resin affair, with the same dusty-creamy texture as the eau de parfum (think crème brulée with a handful of grit stirred through).  It is more animalic than the eau de parfum, with a sort of stale, animal-ish costus note appearing in the latter hours.

 

Both the eau de parfum and the attar of Tasnim are beautiful.  I have a slight preference overall for the eau de parfum, especially in its measured collapse from feathery custard clouds into richly nutty feuilletine.  But in terms of longevity and richness, I must give it to the attar, which only gets deeper and lusher the longer it is on the skin, shedding its rather simplistic ylang oil topnotes to become a floral with an animal growl.  The attar is as powerful, rubied, and pungent as a high grade ylang essential oil, while the eau de parfum is softer, milkier, and sweeter.  

 

 

 

Tawaf (La Via del Profumo/ Abdes Salaam Attar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Tawaf greets you with a hallucinogenic swirl of gasoline, grape brandy, plastics, nail polish remover, and magic marker – not immensely floral, in other words, and a little shocking to those used to commercial (synthetic) jasmine.  I admire its thrusting, near sexual pushiness, but it is not for those of a nervous disposition.  Tawaf is not just jasmine, but a clever mixture of jasmine with its tropical partners in crime – ylang and tuberose.  The flat inkiness of indole defines the opening, and although I find it more squeaky-chemical (magic marker-ish) than animalic per se, it might pin your ears back if you are a jasmine virgin.

 

Soon, a bitter vegetal note emerges to tamp down the purple roar a little.  This is the greasy yellow-green of narcissus, with its feral undercurrent of soiled hay.  In the attar format, the initial floral surge is underpinned by a pungent herbaceous note, like lavender or jatamansi, which to my nose smells disturbingly like spoiled milk.  It is as intense a smell as lavender buds crushed between your fingers.

 

In the attar format (but not the eau de parfum), the scent takes on a silky texture, like heated beeswax slipping through your fingers.  The spikiness of the lavender accent persists, but now it is the soapiness of opoponax resin being pushed to the fore, which gives the scent a pleasantly ‘barbershop’ tonality missing in the eau de parfum format.  The eau de parfum settles into a powdery rose and jasmine tandem kept slightly dirty by way of the barnyardy wet-hay narcissus.  In the far drydown, Tawaf eau de parfum smells rather like the classical jasmine-civet-rose combination in Joy (Patou) – a little sour, leathery, in short, a true jasmine sambac smell.

 

The eau de parfum and attar of Tawaf are quite different from one another, so choose with caution.  The eau de parfum is sweeter, lusher, and more ‘golden’ in temperament, while the attar is oilier, more herbaceous and bitter, and with its emphasis on the lavender-opoponax accord, a virile green-blue hue on the color wheel.

 

The attar does not accentuate the jasmine as much as the eau de parfum at first, although it does allow the jasmine to finally break through the herb-resin miasma past hour two.  In the attar, the primary focus is on the lavender-ish, shaving foam aspects of opoponax, rather than the jasmine.  In the eau de parfum, the herbal shaving cream aspect barely registers, emphasizing instead that skanky jasmine blast in the opening and a classical rose-jasmine-narcissus structure thereafter.

 

The drydown of the attar is spicier, stronger, and more pungent than the eau de parfum, a fierce crescendo of jasmine, shaving cream, and boot polish.  If you are a jasmine fiend, go for the eau de parfum, and if you like the sexy, herbal sourness of skin sweating under a wristwatch, go for the attar.

 

 

 

Tayyiba (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Tayyiba opens with a bouquet of sweet, oily, and slightly pungent flowers – mostly lilac, jasmine, and ylang – creating an effect that is soapy and thick rather than fresh, as if the flowers have been muffled under a thin layer of beeswax.  Later, a savory orange blossom note not a million miles away from the corn-meal masa feel of Seville à L’Aube (L’Artisan Parfumeur) sweeps in.  Overall, Tayyiba is an odd but memorable treatment of traditionally sweet, clear-as-a-bell florals. It is one to sample if you like florals with a muted, salty edge.

 

 

 

Tudor Rose (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Tudor Rose is one of the most accomplished mukhallats in the Mellifluence stable, and one that personifies Abdullah’s neat fusion of Eastern and Western perfumery cultures.  The freshly-cut-grass earthiness of vetiver and deer musk form a thickly furred accord that wraps around the embers of a smoking rose.  Its slightly sulky, ‘red-rubied rose in green velvet’ countenance recalls the animalic rose chypres of the 1970s, such as La Nuit (Paco Rabanne), L’Arte di Gucci (Gucci), or even Knowing (Estée Lauder).

 

However, this is an Eastern take on the rose chypre, so along with that mossy forest floor we get heavy deer musk and two types of real oud oil.  By the time we hit the base, it is clear that we are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.  The dark musk used here is particularly good – velvety and bitter, like 70% cocoa chocolate made liquid.  The slightly stale, earthy ‘old school’ Thai oud used in the blend brings some genuinely barnyardy funk to the party, propelling it out of chypre territory and planting it firmly in the humid jungles of the East.

 

Tudor Rose eventually settles into the quietness of rose-tinted woods, where the sharper notes such as vetiver and rosewood continue to duke it out for some time.  If you like animalic rose chypres but also enjoy the exoticism of oud and rose pairings, then Tudor Rose will reward a sampling.  One of my favorites from Mellifluence. 

 

 

 

Tyrian Purple (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

What an over-the-top, edible delight!  Tyrian Purple (love the Game of Thrones-ish name) is a dollop of cooked rose jam sitting on top of a smoky, medicinal oud that has been gussied up with enough candied apricots and sugar to tip it into the gourmand category.  The gourmand aspect specifically references Middle-Eastern, Indian, and Persian sweet treats such as Rooh Afza, sherbet, and kulfi-like custards flavored with rosewater, saffron, and cardamom.  Osmanthus is the headliner here, creating an olfactory vision of silky rose and apricot jam, and platters of freshly-cut fruit so juicy you almost visualize beads of water popping on their skin.

 

Basically, if you do not smile when you put Tyrian Purple on, then there is something wrong with you.  If you love fragrances such as Andy Tauer’s Rose Jam, By Kilian Liaisons Dangereuses, or Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Mood Satin Oud, then there is no reason why you would not love this too.

 

 

 

Ubar (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Amouage’s Ubar is a big-boned floral built around a triumvirate of indolic white florals, ambergris, and sandalwood.  Sadly,  given that it has been reformulated several times since its launch, with earlier versions more heavily focused on sandalwood than flowers, it is difficult to know what version people are talking about when they refer to Ubar as being a supersonic floral.  Furthermore, the quality of the ambergris and jasmine materials has been downgraded with each subsequent reform.  Whatever in Ubar was once natural is now more likely to be synthetic.

 

However, two features mark Ubar out as being uniquely ‘Ubar’ no matter what the version.  First is its lemongrass-like freshness up top (due to the bright herb called litsea cubeba) and second, its head-spinning complexity.  Ubar is also a perfume an interesting dual personality – a sort of Eastern exoticism meets Western abstract floral perfumery culture clash.

 

So, how does the dupe fare?  In fairness, one can hardly expect a dupe oil to mirror the compositional complexity of an Amouage.  And indeed, while the dupe makes a creditable effort, it falls short.  In particular, the interestingly bright, sour herbaceous topnote of the original is missing, replaced by a screechy citrus material that immediately sets the flavor dial to ‘harsh’.

 

The general texture is also off-kilter – soapy and woody rather than bright and salty.  The floral bouquet is dimmed and blurred by this soapiness, like a lantern rubbed with wax before being lit.  By hour three, the dupe has achieved a sort of uneasy synchronicity with the original Ubar, settling into a soft floral blur that is not unpleasant.  But where the original retains a briny herbal brightness all the way through, the dupe collapses into woody vagueness.

 

However, if the dupe is worn alone, the resemblance to the original is possibly strong enough to pass.  Adequate, in other words – but just barely.

 

 

 

Un Bello (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Un Bello is a juicy, peachy floral accord floating freestyle in a nineties-style aquatic musk.  It smells blue, in a Calone-driven manner.  Given that it accidentally recreates, in faithful detail, the original Acqua di Giò for Women, it would be unconscionable of me to recommend that anyone actually go out and buy this. 

 

 

 

Une Vie En Rose (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Unlike most of the other rose-based compositions in the Henry Jacques stable (that I have smelled), Une Vie En Rose is rendered in the syrupy rose mukhallat style of Arabian perfumery rather than in the crisp, citronal-heavy style of the English garden.  It does not smell as natural or as ripped-from-nature as Henry Jacques’ other rose-forward perfumes, therefore, but in compensation, the thickeners of labdanum, resins, and myrrh make for a more interesting ride.  A smooth but animalic oud oil tucked into the seams gives Une Vie En Rose the feel of a more natural Oud Ispahan.

 

The innocence of the name puzzles until you remember the husky, grief-stained voice of the woman who sang La Vie En Rose.  Edith Piaf would have loved this fragrance.  If you adore the musky bite of oud wood smoking on a burner, or the rough sensuality of balsamic roses, then Une Vie En Rose is for you.  Fans of Oud Ispahan (Dior Privée), Oud Palao (Diptyque), or even the gorgeously syrupy Rose Nacrée du Desert (Guerlain) – this is the one in the Henry Jacques collection to seek out. 

 

 

 

Venezia Giardini Segreti (La Via del Profumo/ Abdes Salaam Attar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

One of my favorites from La Via del Profumo, Venezia Giardini Segreti frames a voluptuous jasmine against the rough-textured tobacco of ambergris, which creates a backdrop of black tea leaves and ash in the manner of Jasmin et Cigarette (État Libre d’Orange).   It is this balance between the damp, fetid lushness of the white flowers and the dryness of the leather, tea, or tobacco that makes Venezia Giardini Segreti so special.    

 

Interestingly, there is also the burnt coffee grounds aroma of real oakmoss.   This accord smells a bit like the oakmoss you get in older, vintage chypres like Givenchy III, meaning rather than fresh and bitter, it feels pre-degraded by time and exposure to the air, like green plant stems rotting slowly in murky vase water.  This dusty ‘brown’ moss note ages the base of Venezia Giardini Segreti, turning the sultry flowers into the cracked-at-the-elbows leather jacket of Cabochard (Grès), Miss Balmain (Balmain), or and Le Smoking (DSH Perfumes).

 

Tempered in this way by the grey-green ink of oakmoss, the jasmine feels like one of those dried and salted mystery items you pick up at the Asian store to snack on.  It is fantastically sexy, and I far prefer it to La Via del Profumo’s most famous jasmine creation, Tawaf.  It is the perfect jasmine perfume for a Bohemian spirit.

 

 

 

Vetiver Blanc (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Vetiver Blanc is sexy as hell.  Straight out of the bottle, it is a creamy emulsion of grass and tropical flowers, with a texture close to coconut cream.  The gardenia and tuberose absolutes give up their creamy, earthy facets but none of their strident, candied, or rubbery undertones, ensuring that the florals in the blend remain low-key.  It smells fertile and damp, like the hummus-rich earth under ylang bushes after a tropical storm.  In this, it shares a bond with Manoumalia by Les Nez, considered by many – including myself – to be the ne-plus-ultra of the tropical floral genre.

 

But the galbanum and the vetiver in Vetiver Blanc run a smoky, rooty thread through the mukhallat, tethering it to the greenery of the jungles and preventing the scent from floating away aimlessly into a pool of pikake island bliss.  There is sensuality, but it is reigned in.  Which, of course, is what makes this even sexier.

 

Another welcome surprise – ambergris.  The composition of Vetiver Blanc contains 35% real ambergris, procured on the West Coast of Ireland and tinctured by Sultan Pasha himself.  It is white ambergris, the highest grade of all, which does not produce much of a scent of its own beyond a sweet seawater minerality.  But the role that the white ambergris plays in this composition is vital.  It causes all the other notes and materials to glow hotly, as if lit by some internal heat source.

 

The effect is a gauzy halo of buttery white florals, resins, and creamed grass, all pulsing outwards in concentric circles of scent waves that fill the room and one’s own mouth.  I find this incredibly beautiful, sexy, and warm – the perfect white floral for white floral avoiders and the perfect vetiver for the vetiver-averse.  It rivals both Songes (Goutal) and Manoumalia (Les Nez) for their damp, fecund sensuality, which, if you know those perfumes at all, is really saying something.

 

 

 

Violet Forever (Agarscents Bazaar)   

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Only the hardest of hearts would not melt at the opening of this perfume.  Violet Forever is a frilly bloomers explosion of sweet, powdery violets, a glitter spackle of violet pastilles pinned lightly to its fabric.  It smells like all the colors associated with Easter – lilac, blush, primrose, duck egg blue.  

 

The childlike exuberance of the opening dies back very quickly, however, transitioning into a more honeyed texture which, while still crystalline, renders the violet note syrupy and medicinal.  Rose and vanilla maintain the creaminess quotient, but alas, the initial freshness of the violets is lost.

 

Despite this, the development of Violet Forever still holds some delights, chief among them a delicious rose jam note that marries the jellied texture of lokhoum to the nuttiness of halva.  The violet becomes ever more insistently sweet as time passes, as well as unapologetically girly.

 

If you love violet pastilles, children’s antibiotic syrups, the scent of My Little Pony, or anything dainty and pastel-colored, then Violet Forever just might be your nirvana.  For everyone else, just keep in mind that they were not kidding about the Forever part, so unless syrupy violet pastilles are your particular fetish, steer clear.  Overall, the sense is of an opportunity missed.  The scent briefly teeters on the brink of something great, but rapidly loses its train of thought, lazily circling back to the girlish cliché you expected it to be in the first place.

 

 

 

Violets Blond (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dupe for: Tom Ford Violet Blonde

 

The dupe is almost identical to the original Tom Ford perfume, save for a slightly marshy edge to the iris in the dupe.  It nails the violet and iris notes to within an inch of the original, especially the cold suede-like overtones of the orris and the powderiness of the violets.  The dupe is as clean and as musky as the original.  Longevity and projection are also roughly on par.

 

The only real difference is that the absence of the sharp, metallic violet leaf at the beginning, and a lighter, less benzoin-heavy drydown.  The toned-down presence of the benzoin means that the powder is dialed down about forty percent from the original, a feature that some might enjoy or even prefer.  On the flipside, this also translates into a slightly slimmer body – a thin foam pillow instead of a plump goose down one.  Overall, though, this is a more than adequate replacement for the by-now-discontinued Tom Ford.

 

 

 

Violette Noyée (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Expectations are such weighty things, aren’t they?  The minute Sultan Pasha mentioned that the inspiration for Violette Noyée (‘Drowned Violet’) was Guerlain’s classic Après L’Ondée (‘After the Downpour’), it was inevitable that that we would begin to stake out some pretty lofty goal posts in our heads.

 

Expectations like these are nigh on impossible to satisfy.  If the perfumer produces an exact copy of Après L’Ondée in attar form, then it is just a dupe.  If it diverges too far from the original template, then people will scoff that it smells nothing like the original.  When a behemoth like Après L’Ondée is involved, therefore, best not to mention it at all.  That way, if people find it similar, they will point it out and the whole thing becomes a ‘happy accident’ by a talented perfumer whose work happens to come close to the standard set by a Guerlain classic.  

 

Therefore, to judge Violette Noyée fairly, you really must put all thoughts of Après L’Ondée out of your head.  They smell very little alike.  But they are both beautiful in their own way.  Après L’Ondée is sweet and aerated, with a heart of tender violets and heliotrope gently spiced with anise and clove.  The iris in the Guerlain emphasizes the delicately mineral scent of earth after a rain shower.  The entire affair is delicate and gauzy. 

 

Violette Noyee, on the other hand, has a bright, hesperidic opening that bristles with lemon and the brushed-metal greenness of violet leaf, which gives way to an earthy ‘forest’ floral.  Peppy green florals such as hyacinth and lily of the valley play the main role here, rather than the melancholy purple sweetness of violet flowers.  The impression is first and foremost of freshly cut grass and sunshine.

 

Heliotrope is strongly present in the latter stages, but compared to the Guerlain, it is neither fluffy nor gauzy, but heavily fudgy and pastry-like.  The scent develops along the same spicy marzipan track as Après L’Ondée’s big sister, L’Heure Bleue, more than Après L’Ondée itself.  This makes sense as the mukhallat is modeled after the rare Après L’Ondée pure parfum, which is a much heavier and denser affair than the eau de toilette (and indeed, much more like L’Heure Bleue).

 

Being an oil-based perfume, Violette Noyée does not and cannot truly capture the silvery weightlessness of the original, nor does it even attempt to recreate its mineral petrichor effect.  But Violette Noyée should be enjoyed as its own creature rather than as a point of comparison.  Its bright citrus and violet leaf notes are especially beautiful, providing as they do a fantastic contrast with the damp verdancy of the florals.

 

The base throws all sense of restraint to the wind and mixes the cool ‘blue’ fudge-like texture of heliotrope, tonka, and amber with spicy, hot carnation, resins, vintage-style musks, and a filthy, saliva-ish ambergris.  What a mind warp to travel from cool green florals and juicy lemons to L’Heure Bleue’s dessert trolley, to finally plant its feet firmly in the stinky mammalian effluviant of ambergris.  Ethereal it ain’t.  But judge Violette Noyée for what it is, please, rather than for what it purports to be.

 

 

 

Walimah Attar (Areej Le Doré)         

Type: mukhallat

 

 

The opening of Walimah Attar is strangely familiar to me, and it haunts me until I realize that it simply shares what I would characterize as the sepia-toned density common to all blends of natural floral absolutes in attar perfumery.  When you mix a bunch of floral absolutes together, they conspire to make a thick, oily-muddy fug of smells only vaguely floral in dilution.  Unlike the synthetic representations of flowers in mixed media perfumes or commercial perfumery, where you can clearly differentiate one floral note from another, the flowers in all-natural attars don’t give up their individual identities without a fight.  They are melted down into the soup.  But still, there are markers that can tip you off as to what is there.

 

So, for example, in Walimah, I can smell the musky, apple-peel outlines of champaca but not its softer, creamier yellow parts.  The gassy miasma of benzene and grape that lingers like fog in still air tells me that ylang plays a role here, even though it doesn’t really smell distinctly of ylang.  A note like lemon peel dropped into creamed white honey, with a cutting green leaf undercarriage – this is the magnolia.  Finally, there seems to be a big tuberose at loose here, but it is the brown-green, angularly bitter type of tuberose one sees in natural perfumery, rather than the buttery, candied Fracas kind.

 

This floral miasma all boils down into a sticky, fruity, brown varnish of notes that smells more like balsamic oud than a field of flowers.  There is nothing fresh or dewy here.  The floral varnish smells aged and, also kind of vaporous, as if evaporating off a piece of old wooden furniture left to fester in a backroom, sending little spores of varnish off into the ether.  That tells me there is lots of saffron here, with its dusty, potpourri-ish trail.

 

Further on, there is a fabulously grassy vetiver threading in and out through the floral fug – not fresh or citrusy like a straight-up vetiver oil, but more like ruh khus, with its soft, mossy smell of winter greens cooked slowly in olive oil.  There is also, at times (but not on every testing), a trace of mushroomy earthiness, creating an impression of either myrrh or gardenia.

 

Texture-wise, Walimah Attar evolves slowly from a dense, syrupy brown varnish to a dusty, soapy base, with a detour here and there to the grassiness of vetiver.  The funkiness of the musk gives the scent a sweet, powdery, and vaguely civety finish that, coupled with the oily, abstract florals up top, make me think of Gold Man by Amouage, particularly the vintage version.  That is my way of saying that Walimah smells a little dirty in parts, a bit soupy and lounge lizardy, like poor body hygiene covered up with a floral white musk deodorizing powder.

 

Walimah unfolds to me as a series of block movements rather than distinct notes – first, a sharp, fruity fug of yellow and white florals compressed tightly into an oily brick, followed by the relieving, aerating soap powder of musk and old woods,  and finally, darting through everything, that nutty, almost creamy vetiver note.

 

Although I really like Walimah Attar, it gives me a slight headache every time I wear it.  Furthermore, despite its potency for the first four hours, it loses steam quite quickly thereafter.  I recommend it highly for men and women who love the following fragrances: Vetiver Blanc (Sultan Pasha),  De Vaara (Mellifluence),  Champaca Regale (Sultan Pasha),  Jardin de Borneo Tuberose (Sultan Pasha), and Gold Man (Amouage).

 

 

 

White Lotus (Anglesey Organics)

Type: essential oil (doubtful)

 

 

Anglesey Organics’ version of a white lotus ruh is extremely cheap, which means, of course, that it is likely not the real deal.  Still, it is highly enjoyable to wear, even neat on the skin.  The opening is of a honeyed white floral, with little pockets of fresh, cool nectar popping in the honeycomb structure.  It is lightly creamy, but not heavy or thick.  There are some woody and vegetal undertones at play in the background, with a faint tea-with-lemon facet developing much later.

 

Overall, this is a delicious, sparkling oil that makes you want to knock it back like a glass of iced floral cordial on a hot day.  As it develops, there is a parallel to the honeyed creaminess of magnolia, but the white lotus is shot through with a crisp, watery hue that gives it the edge in hot weather.  In the far drydown, alongside the tannic tea and citrus notes, there also appears a dry, resinous thickness that is especially toothsome.

 

 

 

Yasminale #1 (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Sweet pea, honeysuckle, Mirabelle plum, freesia – the notes list reads like a perfume made for a twelve-year-old woodland fairy.  True to form, the perfume starts off as a tender-hearted floral, with a soft fruitiness that broadcasts ‘youth’ without straying into flashiness.  

 

Things take an unexpected turn, however, when a rather adult creaminess rolls in to support the florals in the rump, an exquisite combination of jasmine, vanilla, and sandalwood that smells like one of those old-fashioned, boozy egg creams you get at a retro diner.  Not a perfume for a nymph after all, but for women with deep bosoms, zero thigh gap, and serious sexual intent.

 

 

 

 

About Me:  A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes.  (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world).  Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery.   Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud.  But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay.  In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.

 

Source of samples: I purchased samples from Amouage, Anglesey Organics, Perfume Parlour, Agarscents Bazaar, Abdes Salaam Attar, Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics, and Mellifluence. The samples from Sultan Pasha and Areej Le Doré were sent to me free of charge by the brand.  Samples from Henry Jacques were sent to me by Basenotes friends in sample passes. 

 

 

Note on monetization: My blog is not monetized.  But if you’d like to support my work or show appreciation for any of the content I put out, you can always buy me a coffee using the little buymeacoffee button.  Thank you! 

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

Attars & CPOs Floral Green Floral Jasmine Mukhallats Orange Blossom Patchouli Review Rose Saffron Spicy Floral The Attar Guide Violet White Floral

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (P-R)

13th December 2021

 

 

Prima T (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Prima T is a musky floral chypre that leans on the authentic stink of natural floral absolutes for the bulk of its structure.  The standout floral here is clearly the narcissus, an oily green floral note that mysteriously turns to pollen dust on the skin.  Narcissus is an interesting flower because it smells fresh and green, but also funky, like the compacted layer of soiled hay in a horse stall.

 

The fertile honk of narcissus up front is backed by a compact webbing of roses, lily, muguet, and jasmine, which, though less distinct than the narcissus, lends a beautifully creamy, retro vibe to the fragrance.  While there is no moss involved, the earthy greenness of galbanum resin lends an ashy bitterness that fills in the oakmoss blank on the chypre form.  The effect is like cigarette smoke blown through a bouquet of mixed flowers.

 

Prima T smells old-fashioned in the best possible sense.  It recalls a period of perfumery where the powdery richness of flowers such as daffodils and roses were celebrated rather than relegated to the background, or God forbid, derided as old-womanish or grandmotherly.  As far as examples of narcissus-centered fragrances go, Prima T is more color-saturated than the current-day version of Chamade (Guerlain), as well as creamier and more animalic than the now sadly discontinued Le Temps d’Une Fête (Parfums de Nicolaï).

 

In other words, fans of this particular green floral style would do well to look in the direction of Prima T, especially if currently-available versions of old favorites have suffered badly through reformulation and cost-cutting exercises.

 

 

 

Princess Jawaher Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Princess Jawaher opens with a juicy bergamot on top of some warm, fuzzy oud, stretching its limbs out into a beautiful bouquet of sweet, creamy flowers – jasmine, neroli, and ylang.  The floral accord is so limpid and sweet you might be tempted to neck it like a liqueur.

 

Backing the volley of floral and citrus notes is an oud note that has been cleaned up for public consumption.  There is no bilious sourness or rank animal scat that might challenge the average Western nose.  But the oud note is not linear, either.  It begins its life as a warm, high-toned note akin to leather or hay, but picks up traces of smoke, resin, and woodiness as it approaches the final stretch.  And honestly, were it not for the gravitas that this note adds, Princess Jawaher Blend might be just another light, unremarkable floral.

 

Following the creamy whoosh of white and yellows florals of the opening, a jammy rose rises like a Phoenix, the suddenness of its arrival a wonderful shock.  This neon-colored rose gives definition to the creamier white florals, and when the flowers meet the oud, perfect synchronicity between smoke and sweetness, florals and woods, cream and spice, is achieved. Held together by the toothsome chew of caramelized amber, this is the kind of thing that makes me forgive Abdul Samad Al Qurashi for the bubblegummy floral dross they often try to palm off on us females.

 

The jump in quality or complexity between the lower price echelons of the big Emirati houses and the top tier is sudden rather than incremental.  Take Princess Jawaher Blend, for example.  This is listed as ~$365 per tola.  A favorite of mine from the lower-end blends, Al Ghar, costs $135 per tola.  I like them both.  They pursue broadly similar themes.  Realistically, what could possibly justify the price difference between these two oils of $230?  

 

For many customers – absolutely nothing.  Yet, there is an undeniable hike in quality and complexity from Al Ghar to Princess Jawaher Blend, most notably in the quality (and quantity) of oud used.  Compared to Princess Jawaher Blend, Al Ghar now feels light, simple, and almost insubstantial.  This is to not detract from Al Ghar, but to point out that, in oil-based perfumery, the correlation between price and quality is much tighter than in commercial or niche perfumery.

 

 

 

Rain (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Have no fear – despite the name, there is really nothing aquatic about Rain.  Rather, this is a clean floral musk with a tender, fluffy-pillow of (at a guess) mint, rose, hawthorn, amber, pale woods, and heliotrope.  It is cucumberish in parts, as well as lightly honeyed, leading me to think that this is largely a mimosa-centered composition.

 

In style, it is similar to Jo Malone’s Mimosa and Cardamom, as well as to Malle’s luminous L’Eau d’Hiver.  The only fault I find with Rain is that it is reminiscent of several nineties mainstream scents as well as the clean, breezy (but ultimately flimsy) style of Jo Malone.  And for this kind of money, one expects something a bit more, well, special.

 

 

 

Rayaheen (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

A varnish-like Taifi rose explodes upon first contact with skin, painting the air in a glistening slick of thorns, lemons, and solvent. The rose in Rayaheen runs very close to the acid-tinged ‘bloody rose’ accords in Amouage’s Opus X.  Although not listed, I suspect the sharpening presence of geranium leaf, because there is a metallic glint to the rose that gives the scent a blue-green gleam, like petrol on a puddle.  This aspect causes the rose to shimmer hard, in an almost preternatural way.  The shiny, disco-bright rose is, in turn, supported by sweeter, smokier notes, which to my nose, consist of mostly frankincense mixed with dry tobacco leaf.  Rayaheen is unfortunately very difficult to find now.

 

 

 

Red Rose (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Red Rose is a dupe for Kenzo’s Flower, which means that it is a clean, powdery rose resting on a pillow of white musks.  The opening is sharp and green, with a minty swagger that reminds me of violet leaf or geranium, but soon settling into a pale, rosy powder.  It smells girlish, like rose-scented lipsticks, body dusting powder, and those Pierre Hermes Ispahan macarons.  A silvery thread of carnation emphasizes the spicy vintage floral vibe. 

 

Red Rose is perfectly pitched as a young girl’s first rose scent.  But I would also recommend it to lovers of the retro-vibed cosmetic genre, which includes scents such as Teint de Neige (Lorenzo Villoresi), Ombre Rose (Brosseau), and even Lipstick Rose (Malle).  Personally, I think it smells rather like a bar of pink soap, which is a nice thing to smell like once in a blue moon.  (I imagine it working well in a water shortage).

 

 

 

Rêve Narcotique (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

A beautiful mukhallat that was originally composed as a tribute to vintage Opium, Rêve Narcotique turns out to be a much softer, retro-styled floral amber than the all-out spice and resin bomb I had been expecting.  Vintage Opium’s floral note comes from a carnation-rose axis, shored up by a hot, powdery clove note that blows even more heat into the smoky, balsamic base.  Rêve Narcotique, in contrast, builds its floral component along a warmer, creamier axis of ylang, gardenia, jasmine, and tuberose, producing a slightly grassy floral bouquet that counterpoints the smoky, balsamic basenotes more dramatically.

 

The predominant floral here – to my nose at least – is a dark, phenolic jasmine surrounded by smoldering resins, making it difficult not to draw a dotted line between Rêve Narcotique and Anubis (Papillon). But unlike Anubis, which ends in a fiery bath of smoldering resins and chewed-out leather, Rêve Narcotique slides into an extended gardenia-tuberose riff.

 

The gardenia in Rêve Narcotique begins quietly but quickly gathers pace to become a surprisingly significant player in the composition.  It has an almost savory thickness that is very satisfying, like wild mushroom soup with lashings of double cream.  The green milkiness of the note also reminds one of the slightly grassy taste of fresh Irish butter, recalling the meadows in which the cows have grazed.  It is rare to find a gardenia note as good as this, so gardenia lovers should make sampling this mukhallat a priority.

 

On balance, the florals in Rêve Narcotique are dark, serious, and ultimately, delicate.  People who are afraid of the loudness and shrill sweetness of the Big White Floral category of fragrances need not worry about the florals in Rêve Narcotique.  Natural floral enfleurages and absolutes, minus any synthetics to sharpen them into a sonic boom that can be felt several rooms over, tend to be subtly fragrant rather than loud.  Furthermore, the grassiness of the gardenia and the burnt-tire smokiness of the jasmine take the florals here as far away from that big bouquet of wedding flowers as you can get.

 

 

 

Rose Bouquet (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose Bouquet is the oil version of Rosenlust, the eau de parfum.  Both are rose-centered compositions that blend Turkish rose otto with Bulgarian rose, rosewood, pink grapefruit, tonka bean, orris, and ambrette.  The quality of the rose absolutes and ottos used here is great, with the meaty lushness of the Turkish varietal and the sour sharpness of Bulgarian roses duking it out in a glorious battle that benefits everyone. 

 

Unusually, the usual ratios of complexity versus simplicity found in comparing the eau de parfum and oil formats are reversed here, with the eau de parfum emerging as a fresh, powdery rose soliflore, while the civety lavender-vanilla dimension of the oil version turns it a rose-heavy version of Jicky (Guerlain).  It is a surprise, but a welcome one.  In this case, the oil takes home the prize.

 

 

 

Rose Galata (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose Galata shares a certain citronella-like brightness with Rose Snow, below, but is fuller in body – velvet compared to cotton.  Laced with a red hot, Eugenol-rich carnation note, it rasps along in a rather loud, cigarette-hoarse voice that I find rather attractive.  A spiced amber in the base fills out the air pockets, lending it an extra heft around the hips that perhaps it does not need.  Heady, spicy, but with spectacularly poor volume control, Rose Galata is for rose purists who enjoy the stadium-filling radiance of scents such as Opium (Yves Saint Laurent) and Cinnabar (Estée Lauder). 

 

 

 

Rose L’Orange (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose L’Orange is a fizzy orange crème petit fours enlivened with a bitter, green-tipped rose.  It possesses an unusual texture that moves from syrupy to powdery without ever straying into sweetness.  It feels instantly feels happy, sunny, and maybe even a little sexy, in a good-natured way.   It is not dark or cluttered.  The orange blossom note in Rose L’Orange also gives the perfume a mealy ‘corn masa’ facet similar to that of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Seville à L’Aube.  

 

While the eau de parfum stays firmly in the happy place between creamy orange and green rose, the oil version plays up the intense bitterness of the rose otto, with an edge as herbal as a sheaf of freshly-crushed lavender.  Volume-wise, the oil is thinner and flatter than the eau de parfum, as if all the notes have been compressed into one line.

 

The oil version is considerably less sweet than the original eau de parfum, even though the original itself is not terribly sweet.  The oil lacks both the snappy effervescence of the original format, as well as a certain creaminess, which could be seen as a plus for men.  Think of the oil format here as almost a pure Taifi-style rose otto compared to the fully-fleshed-out rose composition that is the eau de parfum. 

 

 

 

Rose Myosotis (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose?  No, not rose, but rather heliotrope, violets, and orange blossom.  Despite the name, Rose Myosotis is a powdery, deep-bosomed floral amber in the L’Heure Bleue (Guerlain) mold, all violet-eyed seduction and steely sexual intent – think Maggie in that white dress in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

 

A doughy, spiced ylang heart tightens the memory link to the pre-war Guerlain.  But there is also a suggestion of Bal à Versailles (Jean Desprez) and the newer Cuir Cannage (Dior).  Rose Myosotis is an old-fashioned, spicy poudrée – a Hermes leather toiletries case smeared with lipstick, powder, bubblegum, gasoline, and a winning dollop of ladylike skank.  It is gorgeous but also tremendously sweet.  Check your blood sugar levels and then gorge yourself.

 

 

 

Rose Oud (Mr. Perfume)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

The Mr. Perfume dupe lands in the same general area as the original By Kilian Rose Oud (rose, saffron, oud with a fruity Turkish delight edge), and indeed, someone not overly familiar with the original might find it to be an adequate replacement.  But worn side by side with the original, the differences are clear.

 

The original opens with a tart, lemony rose that feels like Turkish rose petals dipped into acid green bergamot, before softening into dry, saffron-led leather.  The dupe, on the other hand, is immediately softer, jammier, and sweeter, its rose note candied in salep and thickened with amber.  Texture-wise, the rose in the dupe is wet and jellied, the background notes sweetly ambery in the classic Arabian style.  The original is brighter, drier, and more elegant, tilting slightly more towards tart-sour than candied. 

 

The original is more complex and refined, unfolding its different phases slowly over time, whereas the dupe delivers all the action upfront.  Projection and longevity are roughly on a par, although the oil starts with a loud bang and then fades into a whisper, while the original maintains a steady volume throughout.

 

Overall, this is not a bad job.  Many people may even prefer the easygoing sweetness and raspberry jam notes of the dupe over the more austere original.  In terms of accuracy, however, the jamminess of the rose note pushes the dupe away from By Kilian Rose Oud and into territory more comfortably occupied by Tauer Perfumes Rose Flash.

 

 

 

Rose Oudh (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose Oudh draws upon the power of geranium to fuel the full-bodied rosiness of the composition.  Geranium also lops in a minty-herbaceous tingle, the bitterness of citrus peel, and a shiny boot polish note.  Violet leaf sharpens the opening to a knife point.  It smells rather like blood, varnish, and rose petals ripped from a thorny rose bush, lending the perfume an angry, even hostile edge. 

 

Saffron dominates in the far reaches, whittling the rosy geranium until it becomes a rose-oud in the style of By Kilian’s Rose Oud, minus the soft lokhoum note to ease you in.  Bitter honey adds an animalic flavor but no sweetness or thickness.  This is the sort of accord that fits with my idea of ‘haute couture’ Arabian perfumery – angular and uncompromising, a jutting chin chiseled in granite.  

 

 

 

Roses (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

A surprisingly true-to-life rendition of the traditional Bulgarian rose.  The extent to which you will enjoy Roses very much depends on the type of exposure you have had to this type of rose, which is sharp and leafy-sour rather than lush or jammy.  While some may experience unpleasant flashbacks to the rose toiletries used by their grandmothers, others will experience only the thrilling pungency of a dewy rose freshly-ripped from an English garden.  It is all about context, baby.

 

The closest commercial counterpart to Roses is perhaps Tea Rose by The Perfumer’s Workshop (more natural-smelling) or Rose Absolue by Annick Goutal (lusher, fuller).  If you know those fragrances, then use them as a personal yardstick to judge your likely reaction to Roses by Al Rehab.  Personally, you couldn’t pay me to wear this, but I recognize it could as easily be manna from heaven to someone else.

 

 

 

Rose Sahara (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

The perfumers at Henry Jacques are evidently very proud of their virulently citrusy rose, because it turns up in at least three compositions – Rose Sahara, Rose Galata, and Rose Snow.  To describe the minute differences between them all is to split hairs.  Honestly, smell one and you have smelled them all.

 

Rose Snow is the purest exposition of the note, in that it is really just a vehicle for the rose and little else.  Rose Galata adds spice and amber to raise the volume to stadium-filling levels.  Rose Sahara switches out the amber for ambergris, resulting in a much more strident, saltier composition.  Out of the three, Rose Sahara is the driest and sternest, and therefore perhaps the version that will most appeal to the male sex.  (A hint of ‘hard leather’ in the drydown makes it official.) 

 

 

 

Rose Snow (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose Snow is a bright, citrusy rose with all the acidity of a Taifi rose but none of its resinous lemon peel and pepper notes.  It smells like the color lime green.  When the aroma settles, the scent of a freshly-cut cabbage rose emerges, simultaneously blowsy and sharp.  The citronal and geraniol components of rose oil have been drawn out and exaggerated here by their closest living relatives in the natural world, namely verbena and a minty-rosy geranium.  With its unfortunate resemblance to the scent of a citronella candle, the outcome is unfortunately more suited to fighting off mosquitoes than members of the opposite sex. 

 

Rose Snow will satisfy those for whom roses should only ever smell bright, clean, and flood-lit from all angles.  Lovers of dark, jammy roses can steer clear.

 

 

 

Rose Taifi Supreme (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

From the cap, Rose Taifi Supreme smells narcotic and deep, teeming with lush red berries, wine, and a raspberry sherbet rose.  On the skin, the lush fruits are sidelined by the tangy green spiciness of the Taifi rose, pitched searingly high, like black pepper sizzling on a dry pan over direct heat.

 

Rose Taifi Supreme smells simultaneously like the most intense rose you have ever smelled but also like a freshly-cut lemon and not at all like a rose.  It smells rosy at a distance, and fiercely spicy up close.  Together the disparate impressions mingle to form a 3D image of a Taifi rose, complete with its strong citronal facet. 

 

The drydown is weirdly addictive, a beguiling mixture of dry spice, freshly-cut grass, lemonade, cassis (both the berry and the leaf), and hot pink rose petals.  It is similar to Al Ta’if Rose Nakhb Al Arous from ASAQ, but while the ASAQ is so pure that it is absorbed into the bloodstream within the hour, Rose Taifi Supreme lasts far longer on the skin and boast phenomenal sillage.  Although there are no other notes listed other than Taifi rose, my guess is that a fixative of some sort – white musk perhaps – has been added to enhance performance.  Crucially, though, it does not smell diluted or synthetic. 

 

Rose Taifi Supreme is beautiful and uncompromising.   Make sure that you love Taifi rose before investing, but if you do, this oil is a safe bet. Taifi rose lovers will want to wear this straight, but for others, it will really come into its own as a layering agent to lend heavier, darker perfumes, attars, and oud oils a turbo-boost of dazzlingly pure rose.   

 

 

 

Rose TRO (Amouage)

Type: rose otto

 

 

Rose TRO is a lush, creamy rose guaranteed to satisfy the itch of rose lovers if Homage does not.  The TRO in Rose TRO stands for Turkish Rose Otto, which is Rosa Damascena that has been steam-distilled as opposed to chemically extracted (processes that yield rose absolute and CO2 extract rather than an otto).

 

The attar itself is clear in hue, but despite its translucence, the aroma that bursts onto the skin could only be described as deep red and gold streaks in a purple sky.  I was taken aback at how carnal the opening minutes of the fragrance felt on my skin.  Thick, heady, and drowning in beeswax, it recalled, for a moment, certain aspects of Lutens’ animalic rose chypre, Rose de Nuit.  Past the bluntly sexual opening, however, the attar drops its seductive growl and becomes a purring kitten of a thing.

 

Either the rose oil used in this is so multifaceted that it can throw out a startling range of rosy ‘tones’ or this attar relies on more than just Turkish Rose Otto for its effect.  Whatever the answer – and I doubt we will ever know the truth – the net effect is of something far more complex than one imagines a simple rose oil to be.

 

At the start, there is a whisper of something citric, but as the rose unfolds, notes of cream soda, milk chocolate, sugared cream, butter cookies, and lokhoum crowd in.  It is soft and truffly, but at the same time, dense and rich. Those whose taste runs towards the vanilla-rose-saffron combination found in scents such as Safran Troublant (L’Artisan Parfumeur) and White Oud (Montale) will likely love Rose TRO, because its rose is rendered in the same style, i.e., dessert-like rather than ripped from a bush.

 

Longevity is higher than average for a pure distilled rose otto, which normally disappears within the hour due to its volatile nature, leading me to suspect there’s at least a little fixative thrown into the mix to help extend the general deliciousness.  At $199 per tola, this was originally one of the true bargains of the Amouage attar line.  Alas, if you can find it now, it is likely to be more expensive, as is the way with most things that have been taken out of production.

 

 

 

Royal Patchouli (Ajmal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Priced at the lower end of the Ajmal range, Royal Patchouli is nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable mukhallat.  Belying the name, it is, at least initially, far more of a floral vanilla than a patchouli-forward affair.  Enriched with the heady bubblegum-banana aroma of ylang, the vanilla thickens up over the course of the wear into a semi-tropical custard – a cross between M. Micallef’s Ylang in Gold and Hiram Green’s Arbolé Arbolé.

 

This is not Le Labo, however, in that despite its rather secondary role here, there is a bit of the titular ingredient in the formula.  The patchouli is subtle, and surprisingly for this material, does not attempt to chew up the scenery.  It spends most of its time humming away in the background as a green, minty breath of fresh air.  A few hours in, a creamy amber takes over, and this is when the patchouli finally decides to kick it up a notch, doubling down on red-brown richness until the floral vanilla gains a waxy, white chocolate mien, for an almost Coromandel-esque vibe.

 

Ultimately, Royal Patchouli is a more than serviceable floral vanilla with minty-boozy patchouli undertones and an appealing eggnog-like texture.  For those who think they dislike any and all patchouli perfumes, from the middle-earth examples to the fruity ones like Thierry Mugler’s Angel, this mukhallat could prove to be acceptable middle ground.

 

 

 

Ruh al Mogra (Nemat)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

There is a certain poetry to the names and titles used in attar perfumery.  Ruh al Mogra, for example, translates to ‘soul of Sambac jasmine’, a fitting name for what is essentially an essential oil distilled from Sambac jasmine flowers, with no carrier oil diluting the distillate.  However, given the expense involved in producing even small quantities of a true ruh, it is unlikely that Nemat’s version, which costs $22 for four ounces (125 grams), is a pure essential oil.  Indeed, the Nemat site is charmingly upfront about this, calling Ruh al Mogra a blend rather than a pure essential oil.

                      

For all its lack of purity, Nemat’s Ruh al Mogra manages to pull off an impressively convincing accurate portrait of a Sambac jasmine essential oil.  At first, it is pungently green and screeches with the nail-varnishy wail of benzyl acetate, the grapey isolate in jasmine that gives both ylang and jasmine their petrol-like fruitiness.  This rather high-pitched opening might be a little nerve-wracking for anyone used to the creamy, fruity deliciousness of synthetic jasmine.  But it is also authentic to the way pure jasmine essential oil smells, so do not write it off just yet.  It gets better.

 

The aroma then flattens out into a cool, damp, earthy smell that has more in common with old wooden furniture and animal fur than flowers.  As the nose adjusts, one begins to perceive the very real, living aroma of a jasmine blooming on the vine.  This is Arabian jasmine, so there is plenty of leathery spice and an indolic character, but it differs from other Arabian jasmine attars by being less coarsely fruity.  There is an attractive dankness to this ruh suggestive of mud and closed-up rooms.

 

Once it settles, the jasmine aroma stays firmly in this earthy, musky track.  Interestingly, many Indian sellers wrongly translate mogra as ambrette seed, and the scent of this ruh makes me wonder if this common misunderstanding stems from the vegetal, ambrette-seed kind of muskiness inherent to natural jasmine oil.   Towards the far drydown, it becomes incredibly sour and musky – animalic to the point of offensiveness.  Still, it retains a modicum of dignity sillage-wise, and never projects too vulgarly.

 

This little oil is an education for the nose of a true jasmine lover.  Despite its lack of purity or refinement, it gives a very good, naturally rugged picture of Arabian jasmine.  Highly recommended for wearing alone or layered under other attars to give a blast of musky fecundity to whatever you’re wearing. 

 

 

 

Ruh Gulab (Nemat)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

As with most Nemat attars, Ruh Gulab is very good once you get past the off-putting topnotes, as well as any preconceived notion of what rose should smell like.  The shocker with Ruh Gulab – a name that translates to ‘soul of the Damask rose’ – is the cloud of bitter, sharp, soapy, and stale notes that bloom malevolently, like a nuclear mushroom cloud, on the skin upon application.  In fact, imagine all the undesirable facets of rose you have ever smelled, and you have just visualized the awfulness of the first half hour.

 

However, get past the rocky first bit and you land in rose heaven, specifically, a warm bath of pure, sweet Turkish rose that is almost syrupy in its richness.  There is a hint of rose jam too, although it never strays into gourmand territory.  The freshness, sparkle, sweetness, fullness – it is all there, and perfectly balanced so that no one single facet dominates.

 

Doubtless, this is not a pure ruh of rosa damascena given its relatively low cost, but for that brief stretch in the heart when it explodes into your consciousness as a pure ruh gulab, it is fabulous.  The base, which arrives a little sooner than one might wish, is a soapy musk of no distinction.  Still, this is worth the price of admission for its Damascus rose heart alone, and for the myriad of layering possibilities.  

 

 

 

Russian Centifolia (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: essential oil

 

 

There are some materials that, when you smell them in high levels of purity in a composition, have the power to move you to the very core, and rose is one of these.  Most people feel an emotional connection to the smell of a rose, with memories of garden walks, a childhood toiletry, or a beloved relative’s rose garden coming to mind straight away.  This reaction is evoked by a certain type of ‘English garden’ rose, which invariably smells dewy, as if freshly torn from its stem by a storm, its tightly furled center yielding its secret, familiar scent.

 

Russian Centifolia is an essential oil drawn from the cabbage rose, a blowsy, old-fashioned rose that whose scent many associate with the rose of their memories.  It is not spicy, but green, full-bodied, and lusciously rosy in a lacy kind of way.  Splutters of sourness stain the pink velvet but far from interfering with this oil’s serene beauty, they add to its sense of authenticity.  The oil slowly becomes spicier, darker, and takes on a musky tinge that runs close to animalic.  This is not an attar or a mukhallat.  However, its aroma is so rich and multifaceted that I include it in the hope that people buy it and wear it for its simple, evocative beauty.

 

 

 

 

About Me:  A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes.  (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world).  Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery.   Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud.  But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay.  In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.

 

Source of samples: I purchased samples from Amouage, Al Rehab, Nemat, Ajmal, Arabian Oud, Mr. Perfume, and Bruno Acampora. The samples from Sultan Pasha, April Aromatics, Rising Phoenix Perfumery, and Abdul Samad al Qurashi were sent to me free of charge either by the brand or a distributor.  Samples from Henry Jacques were sent to me by Basenotes friends in sample passes.  

 

 

Note on monetization: My blog is not monetized.  But if you’d like to support my work or show appreciation for any of the content I put out, you can always buy me a coffee using the little buymeacoffee button.  Thank you! 

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

Attars & CPOs Floral Green Floral Iris Jasmine Mukhallats Orange Blossom Osmanthus Review Rose Saffron Spicy Floral The Attar Guide Tuberose Violet White Floral

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (J-L)

8th December 2021

 

 

 

Jakarta (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jakarta certainly gives ManRose (Etro) a run for its money in the ‘we have kraftwerked a rose scent that men won’t have a problem wearing’ stakes (though one might argue that Le Labo Rose 90210 and Egoïste got there first).  Yet for such an essentially austere rose leather, Jakarta starts out in a surprisingly lush, velvety place.  So much so, in fact, that it evokes red rose petals strewn on white silk sheets, two glasses of Burgundy breathing on the nightstand for ‘after’. 

 

The initial bout of heavy breathing is great – bosomy and intentional.  Past the velvety opening, however, a fistful of iodine-ish saffron elbows its way in, roughing up the texture of the rose and steering it into cooler-blooded territory. Underneath the rose and saffron, the wet, brown smell of wood rot soaks through the silk sheets, adding a sense of decayed grandeur.  This all moves the dial towards masculine.

 

Midway through, a sharp metallic green accent develops – the blue-green sheen of geranium leaf perhaps – paring the rose into a shiv.  It remains rich, but it is very much now a spiky green rose rather than a lush, berried one.  Vetiver, though not terribly evident as a note in and of itself (grassy, rooty), is the main building block of the refined grey-green leather accord that steadies the base.  Men may well prefer the scent when it settles into this track, but I mourn the departure of that slightly trashy rose.

 

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo opens with such a pungent, green lavender note that you immediately see the familial relationship to pine needles, rosemary, and (to a certain degree) wild mint.  Rapidly, though, the sharpness is softened by tonka and a very natural-smelling gardenia, rich in the gouty cream cheese and coconut nuances so characteristic of this flower.

 

Towards the heart – if an attar can be said to have a heart in the traditional sense – there appears a mysterious diesel note, hot and almost rubbery in feel.  This usually signifies the presence of jasmine absolute, but none is listed in the notes, so it could be a boot polish facet of the gardenia or tuberose.

 

Sultan Pasha used Ensar Oud’s Bois De Borneo in this mukhallat, a pure Borneo oud oil that is very green and forest-like in aroma.  Jardin d’Borneo also makes use of a little-known material called katrafay.  Steam-distilled from the bark of Cedrolopsis grevei, a bush tree native to Madagascar, katrafay is an essential oil with a complex aroma profile ranging from grass to turmeric and full-fat cream.  Its main role in Jardin d’Borneo seems to be to modulate the edges of the sharper, more aromatic notes of lavender, pine, and rosemary.  It also introduces a soft, long-lasting green creamy note.

 

Intertwined with the dark green jungle feel of the mukhallat is a misting of soapy vapors from a bathroom where finely-milled French goat milk soap has just been used.  This gives rise to a scent profile not terribly far removed from those pungently green and nutty-milky florals of the 1950s, such as Dioressence.  

 

In its original form, Dioressence was a sultry, heavy green chypre famously made up of two halves – an animalic ambergris and civet base mixed with soapy green florals with a minor milky, fruity facet.  The fact that Jardin d’Borneo – a modern mukhallat – successfully recreates much of the feel of vintage Dioressence speaks to Sultan Pasha’s passion for the now mostly forgotten glories of classic perfumery, as well as to a talent for curation.

 

In style, therefore, Jardin d’Borneo is a very French affair, with a Gaugin-esque nudge towards the jungly undergrowth of the Polynesian Islands.  Jardin d’Borneo is used as a base for three other attars in Sultan Pasha’s range, specifically Jardin d’Borneo Gardenia, Tuberose and White Ginger Lily.

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo Gardenia (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo opens with a rich, fruity gardenia note, which initially smells rather like fermenting green apples and wood varnish, before picking up the humus-rich soil and cream facets so revered by fragrance lovers.  Most gardenia fans know how rare it is to find a true rendition of gardenia in modern perfumery.  Because it can only be solvent-extracted rather than distilled in the regular fashion, it is not possible to produce gardenia absolute in amounts big enough to satisfy the volume demands of commercial perfumery and is therefore extremely expensive (at the time of writing, 1ml of gardenia absolute costs almost €37).  Fortunately, because artisanal mukhallat perfumery deals with tiny amounts of raw materials and small batches, it can use gardenia in more than holistic quantities. Another advantage to wearing attars and mukhallats!

 

Sultan Pasha has framed his costly gardenia enfleurage with materials that set off its beauty like a gemstone, chief among them the verdant nuttiness of vetiver and a rubbery, fuel-like tuberose.   The gardenia ‘fullness’ achieved here makes it a must-sample for all gardenia lovers – it is rich but not sickly, and creamy without any off-putting moldy cheese notes.  Texturally, it tends towards the oiliness of solvent.  The gardenia accord is set atop the Jardin d’Borneo fougère base, a fertile tangle of vetiver root, oud from the island of Borneo (which produces oud oil with a very clean, green, almost minty profile), lavender, galbanum, and tonka bean.

 

The entire Jardin d’Borneo series is excellent, but it is Jardin d’Borneo Gardenia that best exemplifies the advantage of attars or mukhallats over Western-style eau de parfums or spray perfumes in general – namely the ability to use and showcase rare or costly raw materials, such as gardenia, jasmine, oud oil, ambergris, and deer musk, that cannot be used in modern commercial perfumery for reasons of cost or scalability. 

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo Tuberose (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

White floral haters need not fear – Jardin d’Borneo Tuberose  is not a Fracas-style tuberose, with enough butter and sugar to set your teeth on edge.  Rather, it combines a phenomenally bitter, camphoraceous tuberose absolute with the jungly notes of the rare Bois de Borneo oud from Ensar Oud and gives it a five o’ clock shadow with a needle prick’s worth of skunk.

 

Yes, you read that correctly – skunk.  At a time when modern niche perfumers seem to be in a perpetual race to out-skank each other in their use of castoreum, musk, and civet, Sultan Pasha has upped the ante by using a minute amount of perhaps one of the stinkiest secretions of all – the foul stench of Pepe Le Pew.  It is a bold move but, honestly, the note has been used with such subtlety that it is more of an undercurrent than a groundswell.   

 

The tuberose absolute is earthy, fungal, and almost moldy in aroma profile, which adds a morose ‘Morrisey-esque’ cast to proceedings.  Misanthropes and Heathcliff types wandering the moors at night, hold tight because your soul mate attar has been revealed.  

 

But like a sulky Goth teenager being handed a puppy, the mukhallat eventually shrugs off the dark, camphoraceous, and bitter elements of the tuberose absolute to reveal a shy smile of creamy gardenia, lush white tuberose petals, and slightly milky-fruity elements – the original Jardin d’Borneo attar used in the base.  In short, Jardin d’Borneo starts off on the Yorkshire moors and winds up in the lush, tropical jungles of Polynesia.  Not a bad trajectory at all.

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo White Ginger Lily (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

By far my favorite of the Jardin d’Borneo series, the White Ginger Lily variant takes a rough, minty Sambac jasmine and floats it in a pool of crisp aqueous notes (white ginger lily and lotus), creating a floral accord that is both mouth-wateringly rich and translucent.  

 

White ginger lily has a vein of piquant spice anchoring its meaty, salty creaminess, a characteristic that pairs very well with the pelvic thrust of the Sambac jasmine.  The topnotes are intoxicating – an exotic mix of the fleshy floral warmth of a living flower and the green chill of flowers taken from a florist’s fridge.

 

These florals hover weightlessly over the fougère base accord used in all the Jardin d’Borneo variants, ripe with the rubbery bleu cheese tones of gardenia and rugged with coumarin, lavender, vetiver, oud, and civet.  The steamy jungle character of the base gains its sharp, minty freshness from the Borneo-style oud used here, as well as its vaporous, rainforest-like juiciness.

 

 

 

Jardin de Shalimar (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jardin de Shalimar is a stinky, old-fashioned floral musk that will strike a chord for lovers of Joy (Patou), Ubar (Amouage), and My Sin (Lanvin).  Although an unofficial notes list found on Fragrantica states that it contains two different types of rose, jasmine, orris, violet, narcissus, lotus, saffron, and bakula (fragrant, honeyed flowers from the Garland Tree native to Western India), the real notes list is clearly far more complex.

 

Jardin de Shalimar begins with a slightly abstract explosion of flowers with a texture so murky that it is difficult to discern individual notes.  Certainly, there is rose and jasmine, but also, I think, some champaca, magnolia, and kewra.  The feel is not French, but nor is it Middle-Eastern.  In fact, everything about this sumptuous floral reads as Indian.  If I were to smell this blind, I would swear that this is a traditional Indian attar like hina musk or shamama.

 

Jardin de Shalimar opens with the scent of flowers, herbs, and aromatics caught in the web of a traditional Indian amber, tinged with the catch-in-your-throat iodine quality of saffron.  These Indian ambers are never sweet, vanillic, or resinous in the Arabic mold; instead, they are herbal and astringent.  The saffron and roses, particularly prominent in the opening phase, give the blend a spicy, resinous feel.

 

Later, the sweet, piercing tones of the lotus flower emerge, and on its heels, the musky apple peel of champaca flower and the high-pitched fruitiness of kewra.  These materials may not have been used in the composition at all, but the total effect is so close to my experience with traditional Indian attars that I presume that more Indian ingredients have been used than are listed.  The spicy, rich, and dense (but un-sweet) wave of florals is blanketed by an animalic surround sound system featuring ambergris, Kasturi deer musk, and agarwood.  The agarwood is only present, to my nose, in tiny amounts, but it is enough to mimics the bitter-dirty-smoky effect of Atlas cedarwood.

 

Together, these materials give the scent a musky texture that is directly reminiscent of animalic florals such as Joy and Ubar.  It is as rich and as warm as a vintage fur coat, and just as naughty.  Jardin de Shalimar certainly will not be anything new to people familiar with complex Indian floral attars, but for those who mourn the passing of an age where floral perfumes contained nitro musks or real animalics, then Jardin de Shalimar might provide a secret little thrill.

 

 

 

Jareth (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Ethereal lilac fougere [sic] and gleaming leather with ti leaf, tonka absolute, white musk, and oudh. 

 

 

Jareth is probably the first BPAL that I would recommend to anyone skeptical of BPAL and its 105,000 perfume-strong catalog, because it is living proof that diamonds can and do exist under a slump heap of coal.  Featuring a cluster of damp, dewy lilacs and citrusy, green tea notes over a gentle leather accord, Jareth is technically a floral fougère.  However, nothing about it reads as old-fashioned or masculine or cologne-ish.

 

Its leather accord is one of my favorite kinds – buttery, soft, and creamy, with tons of vanilla, tonka bean, and velvety white musks turning the whole thing into a freshly-laundered plush toy.  There is a violet-like tinge to the lilacs that, combined with the cedarwood and suede, calls to mind a glorious mash-up of several Serge Lutens fragrances, most notably Bois de Violette and Boxeuses.

 

The oud note emits no exotic sound but, rather, a pale cedarwood accent that adds gravitas to the musky vanilla drydown.  The floral tea and citrus notes shimmer brightly throughout, keeping the general tone of the scent light and rendering it suitable for wear even during the stickiest of weather.  A creamy, purple-tinged floral fougère softened with buttery musks and leather, Jareth is an unqualified success.  

 

 

 

Jasmina (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Jasmina in oil format presents in much the same way as Jasmina in eau de parfum.  This is probably due to the fact that the original composition itself is rather straight-forward, relying on its top-notch naturals to do all the talking.  The notes list reads as jasmine, ylang, and grapefruit, and indeed, that is really what you get.  But thanks to the complexity and ‘ripeness’ of the raw materials used, the perfume never comes off as shallow.

 

The jasmine oil, in particular, is stunning.  Its rubbery, inky purpleness is almost something you can taste at the back of your tongue.  The jasmine is natural and untrimmed – the full bush, so to speak – so in addition to the velvety lushness of the flower, we also get hints of gasoline, rubber tubing, dirt, mint, leather, and melting plastic.  Lovers of natural jasmine will immediately (and correctly) rank this up there with the other great natural jasmines of the world, including Tawaf from La Via del Profumo and Jasmin T from Bruno Acampora.

 

The differences between the oil and eau de parfum are slight but emerge more distinctly when worn side by side.  The eau de parfum accentuates the grapefruit note, its urinous character adding even more raunch to the dirty, indolic jasmine. The oil, on the other hand, is grapefruit-neutral.  The effect of the grapefruit-jasmine pairing in the eau de parfum runs close to the powdered, heady jasmine-civet combination in Joy (Patou).  Because the citrus note is sharply emphasized in the eau de parfum, its texture is more effervescent. The oil is more subdued in comparison.

 

On balance, the eau de parfum version is dirtier and lustier.  The eau de parfum starts off brighter and more urinous than the oil, but its jasmine component is fleshier and therefore sexier.  The eau de parfum is a jasmine-forward floral with a rich, perfumey backdrop, while the oil is a jasmine soliflore that, after a petrol-and-rubber opening (borrowed from the ylang), settles into something very pristine and freshly-scrubbed.  Choose, therefore, according to how you take your jasmine.

 

 

 

Jasmine (Amouage)

Type: traditional distilled attar

 

 

Amouage’s Jasmine attar showcases the simple but affecting beauty of Sambac jasmine, with its fresh, green, and slightly minty or camphoraceous character.  It is sweet, yes, but not tooth-achingly so, and mercifully avoids the unpleasantly saccharine or bubblegum nuances of other jasmine-based attars.  Its freshness lends a subtle charm, and it is easy to be beguiled, even if you are not a jasmine fiend.

 

A mild criticism is that Jasmine does not sustain this rich greenness for long and soon devolves into a faintly musky, soapy white floral accord that feels a little too clean and generic.  However, if you are a fan of Sambac jasmine soliflores such as Jasmin Full by Montale, then you owe it to yourself to track this down.  It is also useful as a baseline for establishing what natural jasmine smells like.

 

 

 

Jasmin T (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Jasmin T opens with a punch of raw, indolic jasmine that threatens to set your nose hairs alight.  It is powerful and bold, with an undertone of something feral, like flower petals putrefying in vase water.  This element of rot adds to the authenticity of the jasmine.  The smells of nature, when presented in their uncut form, are rarely pretty in a conventional sense.

 

Soon after the violent unfurling of the jasmine, a potent ylang slides into its DMs to accentuate its benzyl acetate qualities.  Benzyl acetate is the naturally-occurring aromachemical in both ylang and jasmine responsible for that grapey-fuel-banana topnote.  It smells like the gasses pouring off a rapidly decomposing banana in a brown paper bag, combined with the green, animalic scent of banana stem.  It also has hallucinogenic properties, similar to the effect of breathing in paint solvent.  Initially, the combination of the jasmine and ylang is so vaporous that you feel it might ignite if you struck a match.

 

Gradually, however, green notes move in to aerate the pungent ripeness.  These notes are stemmy and aqueous, possessed of a vegetal bitterness that cuts through the compressed floral accords, lifting and separately them.  This intervention calms the jasmine and renders it quietly sleek and lush, a tamed version of the panther that came before. The drydown smells musky in an indeterminate manner, perhaps a natural extension of natural jasmine oil, but also possibly a reformulation. (My current bottle of Jasmin T is heavier on the soapy white musk basenotes than previous iterations). 

 

Overall, Jasmin T presents a raw, true picture of jasmine.  It is a powerful smell rather than a pretty one.  The perfume equivalent of eating clean food, it is hard to imagine going back to commercial representations of jasmine after smelling this tour de force.  

 

 

 

Junos (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Junos headlines with an orris root note of stunning beauty.  It smells raw, rooty, and exactly like the color silver.  High-pitched and almost ureic in its intensity, the animalic, ‘wet newspaper’ aspects of iris are further emphasized with pepper, vetiver, and a licorice-root myrrh.  Everything here sings in the same high, metallic-peppery-rooty register.  It is both weird and weirdly beautiful.

 

Despite the essential delicacy of the material, a pure iris note can be as powerful as a train whistle – just smell Iris Silver Mist to grasp its sinister intensity.  The cold, metallic earthiness of the iris is eventually tempered somewhat by a sweet frangipani and the powdery cinnamon of benzoin, but its silvery rootiness persists in floating high above all the other notes.

 

The listed oud does not register at all on my skin, nor does the patchouli beyond a certain brown leafiness flitting around the edges of that remarkable iris.  With an iris so pure and evilly intense, they are beside the point anyway.  Though quite a deal ‘rougher’ around the edges than any of the Sultan Pasha takes on this noble rhizome, Junos is still a must-try for the truly hardcore orris lovers out there.  

 

 

Juriah (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: Mukhallat

 

Juriah is a rose-oud mukhallat so thick and so ropey that wearing it feels like placing your hands flat against a man’s densely-muscled chest and feeling the tectonic plates of muscle and tendon shift and grind under the smooth skin.  There is not an inch of fat on this thing.  Just the perfect dance between a Hindi oud oil that feels like it has just been milked from an animal’s bile duct – biting, feral, but rich and slippery – and the heady bloom of the finest Taifi rose oil, with its green, peppered-steak fizz.

 

The aged Hindi oud, in combination with the more mellow, fruity tones of the Cambodi oud and a silty ambergris give the mukhallat a salty, feline purr, like the sensation of wearing a vintage fur over bare skin.  The lush, honeyed drip-drip-drip of Turkish rose smooths over the edges a bit, but really, you are never allowed to take your eyes off that central tandem of Taifi rose and oud.

 

The musky leather drydown – some feature of the osmanthus perhaps – is a delight, as are the small floral and incensey touches that serve to soften the arrogant thrust of the rose and oud, without taking anything away from their grandeur.  You can tell that synthetic musks have been added to roll the whole thundering wagon forward on the tracks, but their effect is not to broadcast or project (the rose and oud are themselves immensely strong) but rather to feather out any hard edges into a soft, musky haze.  This has the effect of making the mukhallat more ambiguous in shape, more abstract.

 

Sultan Pasha himself calls Juriah his magnum opus, and I agree, except to add that perhaps Juriah shares that particular throne with the incredible Aurum D’Angkhor.   Juriah is the archetypal rose-oud mukhallat but built with the finest raw materials in the world.  Clearly a manifesto of sorts. 

 

 

 

Karnal Flower for Women (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

Dupe for: Parfums Editions de Frederic Malle Carnal Flower

 

If you did not already own Carnal Flower – even a wee drip of it – you might be forgiven for believing that this is a reasonable substitute.  But a side-by-side wearing reveals all the usual problems inherent to dupes, namely too basic a structure, an inability to capture more complex or unusual notes, and a thinner body.

 

Karnal Flower makes a lunge for the throat with a bouquet of creamy, coconutty tuberose, but in doing so entirely misses what makes the original so special, which is the bitter green bite of the eucalyptus.  The original smells memorably of a privet hedge.  The dupe, not so much. 

 

Carnal Flower is almost transcendent in its stemmy green beauty – botanical, naturalistic, and emotive.  Its notes are ripped from nature.  The dupe is your bog standard tuberose with a semi-tropical, tinned fruit edge that recalls the solar cheerfulness of monoï.   Furthermore, in its simple, creamy prettiness, the tuberose note nudges the dupe into Michael by Michael Kors territory.  Michael is a beautiful perfume in its own right, but its beauty is conventional and a little staid.  The dupe therefore misses all the verdant excitement of the original.

 

 

 

Kinmokusei (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Real osmanthus absolute, when smelled in isolation of anything else, is ridiculously pungent at first, with a cheesy, overripe note that runs close to the funk of a Hindi oud oil, minus the woodiness.  Kinmokusei, which contains a large amount of osmanthus absolute, unfolds in much the same way.  The barnyard facets of the osmanthus are up front here, underlined by a dark Kasturi musk.  This has the effect of rendering the flower animal.

 

The apricot and leather notes so characteristic of osmanthus begin to emerge from the funk, and are immediately enhanced by the fruity, almost jammy undertones of the Trat oud oil.  Matching the funk of the flower with the funk of the musk is clever, as is matching the fruitiness of the flower with the fruitiness of a particularly fruity type of oud oil.  Like all great cheese and wine pairings, one taste enhances the other.  In Kinmokusei, everything pulls in the same direction, all with the intent of emphasizing the naturally rich ‘roundness’ of osmanthus.

 

After a few hours, there appears a doughy whiff of doll’s head rubber, which combines with the osmanthus to produce a cherry cough medicine note.  A similar medicinal syrup nuance is present in Diptyque’s Kimonanthe, so one might reasonably assume that this is a feature of osmanthus, or perhaps more accurately, of a Japanese-styled treatment of osmanthus.  The cherry cough drop accord eventually disappears into a most pleasant ‘wheat porridge’ base that signals the presence of jasmine and sandalwood – half wood pulp, half granola.

 

 

 

Lady Portraits for Women (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dupe for: Parfums Editions de Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady

 

The dupe opens with an objectionably sweaty mélange of eucalyptus, fir balsam, mint, and pine, all cruelly obscuring a shy rose.  It veers close to disgusting.  Not only do the opening notes rehash the original’s opening notes in the most crude and ham-fisted manner possible, but it does so on the cheap.  The balance between the camphoraceous, the rosy, and the earthy is completely out of whack.  The original, while definitely camphoraceous, never plunges so completely into bitter-minty balsam like the dupe does.

 

Eventually, this unhappy marriage of sweat, fir balsam, and eucalyptus dies back a little, making it smell less like the sick room of someone with a personal hygiene problem and more like something one might eventually be able to wear without grimacing.  The rose manages to push through the veil of bilious green, revealing itself to be the same jammy Turkish rose note used in the original.  However, while this nudges the dupe closer to the original, the vital component of smoky incense is missing.

 

The dupe doesn’t even come close to aping the bold beauty of the original.  Portrait of a Lady is a demanding, often cantankerous perfume, but its balance between the chilly raspberry, rose, biting camphor, and earthy patchouli is perfectly judged.  Not so the dupe, which is unbalanced to the point of ugliness.

 

The original is a full-bodied creature to whom one must commit body and soul before donning, like a pair of red vinyl stripper heels.  But if you are going to commit, even if it is only one or two days out of the year, then make sure that you don’t cheat yourself out of the original.  Beg, borrow, or steal a sample, and save it for those rare days when only Portrait of a Lady will do.

 

 

 

La Luna (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

La Luna opens with a benzene-pumped white floral note that could be anything really – tuberose, gardenia, or orange flower – but reads to my nose as predominantly ylang ylang.  Texturally, there is an interesting bitter greenness that slices through the hot rubber, lending relief.  Once the pungency of the pure floral absolutes has abated somewhat, the primary floral note emerges as jasmine – a leathery Arabian sambac rather than the sweet, purplish Grandiflora variant.

 

The floral panoply becomes smokier as time wears on, like a well-heeled woman who has puffed her way through a pack of Marlboro while wearing a fur coat drenched in Amarige.  Despite those references, La Luna is, on balance, a masculine white floral.  Any man who can wear the Jardin series or Al Hareem Blanc could also pull this off.  In temperament, it is somewhat analogous to Jasmin et Cigarette (État Libre d’Orange), albeit less ashy and with a richer white floral support in the place of its singular, minty jasmine.

 

 

 

Lamia (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Deadly elegance: pale orchid, lily of the valley, vanilla amber, black currant, white peach, champaca, coconut, honeysuckle, Arabian myrrh, Burmese vetiver, and oude [sic].

 

 

Lamia opens with a burst of creamy tropical flowers – most likely tiaré – with an underbelly of tinned peach slices and coconut custard.  The headiness of the florals is underscored by a rich orchid-vanilla accord, but also lightened with a touch of something stemmy and watery-green (perhaps muguet).  An assertive vetiver note contributes a cool, rooty grassiness.  A pleasantly muted opening, therefore, to what could have otherwise been a sun-tan-and-flip-flops kind of thing.

 

Further on, a rubbery, juicy peach skin facet appears, swelling and rubbing up against the florals to flesh out the center.  The faintly sour woods and resins in the base darken the peach, causing it to dry out into dusty fruit leather.  This smells like dried apricots in a brown paper bag, which in turn makes me think of osmanthus.

 

There is no obvious oud note here, so those with nervous dispositions need not fear.  Bear in mind that oud and osmanthus in their purest forms do share a ripe, almost cheesey fruitiness that tilts towards leather and goat curd.  However, the ‘cheese’ connection does not seem to have been played up enormously here, so all one really smells is peach or apricot skin that has started to dry and curl at the edges.  In the drydown, a whiff of smoked coconut husk appears.  It may even be an attempt at gardenia.

 

In short, Lamia is an unusually nuanced take on the tropical BWF (Big White Floral) genre, its accords of fruit rot, rubber, and smoke more suggestive of peach skin and leather than of suntan or monoï oil.  

 

 

 

La Peregrina (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

La Peregrina pairs the lush sweetness of tuberose with the earthiness of oud, deer musk, and sandalwood.  Three elements rise to the nose right away – the sweetness of a pure tuberose ruh, the ambery heft of labdanum resin, and the mossy tones of the oud-musk tandem.  The message it communicates is less flower than a wad of salted butter caramel rubbed into the wet, hummus-rich soil of a tropical rainforest.  It smells magnificently fertile.

 

The earthy ‘brownness’ of three different kinds of oud tamps down bolshy honk of the tuberose, while a shot of styrax resin teases out the rubbery smokiness inherent to the flower.  This is a tuberose that men could pull off without much difficulty.  The buttery facets of tuberose are matched and then exaggerated by a toffee-ish labdanum.  La Peregrina’s sweet-and-salty caramel glaze is dotted with wisps of smoke and white flower petals, which provide for a lighter final flourish, or at least one that won’t choke you out entirely.

 

 

 

Lavana (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Lavana opens with a citrusy lilt – grapefruit or lime perhaps – that evokes a face turned to the sun.  When a fresh, peachy osmanthus note merges with the citrus notes, I am (quite happily) reminded of the cheap and cheerful body sprays I would take with me on holidays to Greece as a teenager.  

 

Ambergris is present in this blend, but it is most likely a dab of the white stuff that has little scent of its own beyond a salty, shimmering sparkle that extends and magnifies the other materials until they glow like hot rocks in the sun.  There is certainly none of the earthy funk of marine silt or horse stalls that I associate with darker, more pungent grades of ambergris.

 

Oud? Patchouli?  I smell neither, but that is fine with me.  Nothing dark can spoil the sunny, peachy radiance of this blend.  There is a touch of rubbery ylang, but ylang is tropical and therefore allowed with us on the beach.  Pass the sun cream, please! 

 

 

 

Lissome (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Lissome’s opening is pure floral delight – thousands of bright frangipani petals, with their juicy peach scent, tumbling over jasmine, rose, and violet for an effect that feels you are being showered with flowers at an elaborate Indian wedding.  It is bright, but soft and creamy.

 

There is a slightly musky edge to the flowers as it dries down, thanks to the Indian ambrette seed.  The ambrette also adds a note of green apple peel that jives well with the tender, apricotty feel of the frangipani.  Purely feminine, Lissome is creamy enough to provide comfort in winter but fruity enough to refresh when the barometer rises.  In overall tone and effect, it reminds me slightly of Ormonde Jayne’s Frangipani, only slightly less dewy.

 

 

 

lostinflowers (Strangelove NYC)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

lostinflowers smells like a carpet of exotic flowers smeared over the floor of a cow barn.  It smells entirely Indian to my nose, like one of those traditional Indian attars of champaca flower, hina (henna), and gardenia, where the flowers smell at first like leather or fuel before they loosen up and their more floral attributes begin to emerge.

 

lostinflowers is slightly dirty in feel, although it is difficult to tell if that it is because of the hint of oud or because Indian attars can be quite pungent in and of themselves.  It is equal parts ‘sweaty sex on a bed of matted flower petals’ and ‘the buttery purity of magnolia’.  It smells of honey, pollen, fruit, indole, and just enough inner thigh to pin your ears back.

 

The red champaca oil (known as joy oil in India) leads the charge, imbuing the scent with a rich, juicy floral note that will feel exotic to most Western noses.  There’s a musky, body odor-ish shadow to champaca lurking behind its juicy fruit exterior, further emphasized by a dry, throaty saffron and henna.

 

The real star in lostinflowers is not the champaca, however.  It is the gardenia.  A rare (and probably ruinously expensive) gardenia enfleurage deserves star billing for this scent, because its saline, bleu-cheese creaminess is ultimately what expands to saturate the air until it is practically all you smell.  Salty, pungent flowers dissolving in a pool of warm, melted butter.

 

lostinflowers is an intense but beautiful experience that pushes a range of tropical or semi-tropical flowers through an Indian attar sieve. It is not particularly beginner-friendly, but for those who love the rudeness and weirdness and resolute non-perfumey-ness of strong floral absolutes, it is a must-smell.

 

 

 

 

About Me:  A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes.  (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world).  Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery.   Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud.  But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay.  In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.

 

Source of samples: I purchased samples from Perfume Parlour, Bruno Acampora, Amouage, Maison Anthony Marmin, Agarscents Bazaar, BPAL, and Mellifluence. The samples from Sultan Pasha were sent to me free of charge by the brand.  My sample of lostinflowers came from Luckyscent as part of a paid copywriting job.  

 

 

Note on monetization: My blog is not monetized.  But if you’d like to support my work or show appreciation for any of the content I put out, you can always buy me a coffee using the little buymeacoffee button.  Thank you! 

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

Attars & CPOs Floral Green Floral Mukhallats Orange Blossom Osmanthus Review Rose Sandalwood Spicy Floral The Attar Guide Tuberose Violet White Floral Ylang ylang

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (0-A)

1st December 2021

 

 

007 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

No. 007 is a little bum fluff of a thing – a peachy honeysuckle that leans waxy rather than green or fresh.  Orange blossom adds a candied edge, like marshmallow and honey whipped together for a sweet, foamy ‘mouthfeel’.  The coconut stays firmly in the background for most of the scent’s trajectory, allowing the peach and honeysuckle notes to shine.  The subtlety of the coconut note means that this never turns into a beach fest, instead keeping its toes firmly tucked inside the fruity-floral category.

 

Further on, angelica adds a watery greenness that sharpens the scent up a bit, adding some much-needed definition to the fuzzy honeysuckle.  All too soon, however, the scent unravels into a sweet, cottony floral musk that is pleasant but ultimately a little too eau de department store for a genre that promises something a little quirkier.

 

No. 007 is a soft fruity-floral musk that will appeal to young women who do not want to be challenged by their scent and yet who also do not want to smell like every other gal in town.  Sometimes, pretty is all one wants, and in this respect, No. 007 certainly fits the bill.  However, if you are going to the trouble of ordering an indie over the Internet, why settle for something that smells like something you would get on the high street?

 

 

 

008 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

No. 008’s citrusy jasmine opening says super femme, but a sudden wave of spicy bay rum takes everything to a darker, more masculine place.  Bay rum, a traditional component of men’s aftershaves, draws on the moody bitterness of bay leaf as well as the sweet darkness of fine Jamaican rum.  Spiced heavily with black pepper and sometimes clove, this note is associated with classic male perfumes such as Pinaud Clubman Virgin Island Bay Rum and Aramis Havana.   Here, the bay rum accord acts upon the syrupy, purple jasmine note to give it a sexy, nocturnal edge.  Booze, spice, and indolic white flowers – what’s not to like?

 

There is light in the murk of this spicy jasmine oriental, however, in the form of wafts of fresh, powdery heliotrope and rose.  These small-petalled, almost babyish floral notes take all the sting out of the bay rum, rendering it more conventionally feminine in feel.  In fact, No. 008 has all the bones of an eighties powerhouse.  The manner in which its salt-flecked base of sandalwood and Ambroxan supports the spicy, musky jasmine is quite close to that of one of Creed’s best fragrances, Jasmin Impératrice Eugenie.  However, a beguiling hint of industrial rubber ensures that No. 008 feels modern and up to date.  Interesting stuff, and, well, big.

 

 

 

009 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Mmm, creamy coconut shampoo.  Rinse and repeat.  No. 009 smells almost exactly like one of those fruity monoï shampoos you get from Yves Rocher, crossed with the ambered sweetness of an Argan oil hair product like Moroccan Oil.  Note that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to smell like a lush hair product.  Scents that smell like personal care products are both insanely evocative and comforting.  Look at the number of people who want to find a perfume that recreates the smell of 1970s Revlon Flex.

 

No. 009 has the same creamy, solar feel as Intense Tiaré by Montale, so if you like smelling beachy, keep your eyes peeled for this.  It might also be a good one to test if you love Oud Jaune Intense by Fragrance du Bois, but your wallet does not.

 

 

 

 

013 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Wintergreen toothpaste!  Germolene!  Ylang has a medicinal, camphoraceous aspect not often emphasized in perfumery, but here, the perfumers seemed to have rolled the dice and won.  The opening of No. 013 delivers the same Listerine slap to the face as Serge Lutens’ great Tubéreuse Criminelle.  Indeed, in Britain, Listerine is known as TCP, which happens to have the same initials as Tubéreuse Criminelle Parfum (coincidence? I think not).

 

The tiger balm mintiness of the ylang softens but never dissipates completely.  It freshens up the earthy, almost metallic breath of a lei of mixed tropical flowers – jasmine, orchid, gardenia, as well as ylang.  This combination of creamy and medicinal notes means that the fragrance has a sultry tropical feel, but also the nipped-in waist of proper corsetry.  Clods of earthy patchouli in the drydown provide a humid soil pillow for the florals in much the same fashion as Manoumalia (Les Nez).

 

No. 013 is a balmy tropical floral that feeds you all the earthier, leafier parts of the island experience, and very little of the sugar or cream that normally accompanies it.  It might be just the thing to convert a self-avowed tropical floral hater.  A hint of dark cocoa and amber in the tail is further inducement, should you need it.     

 

 

 

Absolute Jasmine (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Absolute Jasmine opens with a Lanolin-like note, lending the composition a strange waxy texture and an oily aroma that has more in common with the fishy smell of pure silk than with floral absolutes.  This (to me) beguiling topnote melts away into a bitter, peppery leather accord with dark plum and cinnamon undertones plumping it out from beneath.

 

A spicy Coca Cola-like note is next to pull free, reminding me of the moment in Jasmin de Nuit (The Different Company) when the dark jasmine butts up against the rose, star anise, and cardamom to create a sweet, fizzing soda note that tickles the nose.  In Absolute Jasmine, the tone is much more astringent – nothing sweet or creamy here – but in the meeting of jasmine and spice, much the same effect is achieved.

 

Absolute Jasmine is a dark, serious perfume with a masculine edge.  In a way, it does for jasmine what Tom Ford’s Black Violet did for violets, which was to marry the girlish sweetness of violets to a phenomenally bitter, mossy drydown – a sort of mash up between flowers and aftershave.  Absolute Jasmine is a sugar-free jasmine Coca Cola perfume oil for sugar-free adults.

 

 

 

Absolute Orris (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Orris can be twisted in several different directions, depending on the material used and the composition of the perfume.  It can be pulled into a waxy-lipsticky direction, most commonly used in perfumes evoking the smell of cosmetics, like Chanel’s Misia and Histoires de Parfum’s Moulin Rouge.  Some orris materials smell more like violets than iris, as evidenced by Iris by Santa Maria Novella and, to some extent, Heeley’s Iris de Nuit.  Iris also has rooty, metallic facets that can be accentuated, the most famous example of this type being Iris Silver Mist by Serge Lutens.  But many perfumes choose to accentuate the doughy suede elements of iris, and this is the direction taken by Clive Christian for Absolute Orris.

 

The opening of Absolute Orris is a stark representation of orris root – wet newspapers, carrots, soil, and ice, mixed with stranger elements such as glue and the plastic backing on industrial carpets.  Running through this opening accord is a shoal of bright, silvery notes, which on paper read as citrusy, but on the skin turns out to be something between black pepper, mint, and metal.

 

Absolute Orris evolves into a smooth, buttery suede but retains a certain bitterness inherent to the material.  Admirably, the perfume does not attempt to cover this with sweet or creamy supporting notes, but instead just leaves it there, as stark and uncompromising as the stone heads on Easter Island.  This accord is both luxurious and straightforward, shorn of noise and distraction.  Highly recommended for professionals of any gender with a taste for quiet but forceful luxury. 

 

 

 

Absolute Osmanthus (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Absolute Osmanthus comes with an overdose of woody aromachemicals that obscures the delicate beauty of the osmanthus, making it virtually impossible to evaluate on the skin.  On paper, however, there are hints of what I feel I am missing – apricot jam, buttery leather, and sappy green leaf notes that inject a mood of brightness into the entire affair.  Those who are less sensitive to woody ambers will probably enjoy this in full on their skin.

 

 

 

Absolute Rose (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Revolving around the bright rose de mai varietal, Absolute Rose is a sun-lit take on a garden rose framed by accents of citrus, herbs, and spice.  A tart lime-peel bergamot lifts the topnotes, leading into a heart that smells like a pale pink rose plucked from a rain-soaked garden.  Geranium leaf boosts the green rosiness inherent to this varietal, but also injects a delightful hint of garden mint, green leaves, and rhubarb stalks.

 

This sits at the opposite spectrum to the dark, syrupy roses of most Middle Eastern perfumery.  It is a young rose, content to simply sparkle against a backdrop of garden greenery.  Saffron adds a hint of earthy leather in the base, but generally, the wet herbal feel of the rose and geranium is what dominates.  Think Galop (Hermès) dialed back by a factor of seven.

 

The fresh dew of the rose has been preserved throughout and not allowed to suffocate under a blanket of smoky resin or syrupy amber.  This treatment imbues Absolute Rose with an almost Victorian sense of elegance.  Men and women looking for a dandified take on a garden rose should seek out a sample of this.  Its lack of embellishment and sweetness makes it perfectly suitable for men who are wary of flowers, and roses in particular.  This is a particularly unsentimental take on rose that won’t remind anyone of their grandmother. 

 

 

 

Akaber (Majid Muzaffar Iterji)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

A massively-upholstered floral vanilla attar with an anisic-amaretto tint, Akaber recalls – with suspicious fidelity – the most popular floral vanilla gourmands of the late nineties, i.e., Hypnotic Poison and Dior Addict.

 

 

 

Al’Ghaliyah (Kyara Zen)      

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al’Ghaliyah is so beautiful that it is difficult to describe it without gushing.  Ghaliyah mukhallats are common in Middle-Eastern perfumery but the bulk of them are harsh and synthetic in aroma.  I do not know if Kyara Zen’s version of it is completely natural, but it sure smells like it might be.

 

Kyara Zen’s Al’Ghaliyah is one of the very few rose-oud mukhallats that manages to achieve perfect balance between the elements in the blend – a rich, perfumey oud that smells like liquid calf leather, a winey rose with no sourness or sharp corners, and what smells like a golden nectar of apricots, peaches, plums, and osmanthus soaking into all the other notes.

 

All the elements reach the nose at once, cresting over each over continuously like the swell of a wave.  The bright rose runs straight through the blend like a piece of thread, so even in the basenotes you can sense its rich, red presence glowing like pulp through the oud and musk.  It is unclear whether the succulent fruit notes are emanating from the oud or the rose, but there is a cornucopia of winey, autumnal fruits to savor here.  The fruit notes fade away gently, leaving the rich rose to proceed on its own.

 

According to Kyara Zen’s Instagram feed, it appears that genuine deer musk grains were macerated and then added to the final blend.  If that is true, then it is a clever vehicle to demonstrate to people that genuine deer musk does not smell as dirty or as fecal as its recreations sometimes make it out to be.  Rather, it is unobtrusively musky, with all the pleasing warmth of a clean, furred animal. 

 

Overall, the richness and depth of this mukhallat is astounding.  I applaud the skill of the perfumer who managed to corral two or three of the most commonly-used raw materials in mukhallat perfumery and shape them into a form that smells, if not new exactly, then a hundred times better than other iterations of the same materials.  The liquid embodiment of a piece of gold-threaded brocade, Al’Ghaliyah is one of the most beautiful things I have smelled on my journey.

 

 

 

Al Ghar Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al Ghar is what I feel comfortable calling a girly, gourmand take on the rose-oud mukhallat theme.  Al Ghar’s prettiness is so understated that it is easy to miss entirely.  A creamy, woodsy blend dusted with rose powder, it takes on the theme of oud in a way that is teasingly subtle, its soft, abstract nature making it difficult to identify and place all the disparate elements.  But this is a scent that rewards patience.

 

The oud, saffron, and rose opening is medicinal, but not challenging to anyone who has ever sat out the opening of a Montale.  The oud used here, although purportedly real, has a band-aid twang common to the synthetic oud used in most Western oud fragrances.  The oud note is lightly handled, extended at one side by an astringent, leathery saffron and on the other, dusty woods.  The rose takes shape as a powdery potpourri note that peeks out shyly from behind the other notes.

 

A few hours later, creamy, ambery warmth starts stealing over the medicinal opening, flickering in and out over the top, like someone spreading a lace cloth over a table and then whipping it off again.  The caramel sweetness of labdanum mingles with the dry, medicinal oud and saffron to create a wonderful saltwater taffy note.  This hazy, golden oud-amber-saffron accord stretches out in the base like a cat, picking up an alluring dash of black pepper or clove as it goes on – just enough to warm the tongue but not to make anyone sneeze.

 

The base features a milky sandalwood that is far more of a texture than an aroma.  It is unclear whether Mysore or Australian sandalwood has been used here, but it doesn’t matter because the only thing it is asked to do here is to hand over its cream and be quick about it.  

 

I really like Al Ghar.  It is the definition of something delicate for when one is feeling, well, delicate.  It calls to mind the comfort of a caramel latte or a cube of milk chocolate sprinkled with salt – piquant, but at the same time, soothing.  Coming close in mouthfeel to both White Oud (Montale) and Red Aoud (Montale), I recommend it highly to those looking for a sweet, quasi gourmand take on the traditional ‘attar’ smell of saffron, rose, oud, and sandalwood.  It also smells a little like pandan, which is a good thing in my book.

 

 

 

Al Hareem Blanc (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Despite the name, Al Hareem Blanc neither bears any relation to the original Al Hareem nor contains anything truly blanc-feeling in the composition, apart from a tiny dab of heliotrope which immediately gets gobbled up by the other more powerful notes.  The opening is dominated by a beefed-up, muscle-bound tuberose with an acetone edge so powerful that it gives you the same head rush as sniffing an open can of paint thinner.  It is a startling, unique opening, if not entirely pleasant.

 

Slowly, as the nose adjusts, it becomes clear that the benzene honk is that of a very pure, very strong tuberose absolute, whose aroma may be further broken down into its constituent parts of fuel, glue, rubber, and the decaying pear notes of nail polish remover.  Dry woods, smoke, leather, and engine oil follow, making this one of the rare tuberose-dominated scents that men might feel comfortable wearing.

 

Men, if you are looking for a butch floral and are scared to death that someone in the grocery store might accuse you of wearing, gasp, a white floral, then get yourself this.  Al Hareem Blanc is unambiguously male.  It is a leather bomb made up of metal splinters of an equally tough, rugged flower.  Actually, the tuberose in Al Hareem Blanc is really less a flower and more assless chaps.

 

 

 

Al Lail (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al Lail, meaning The Night, is Sultan Pasha’s tribute to one of the stinkiest, civet-laden fragrances of all time, the notorious La Nuit (The Night) by Paco Rabanne.  However, Al Lail is not a literal copy.  It sidesteps, for example, the immensely sharp pissiness of the honey-civet in the original, and replaces it with a dusty, spicy floral musk that owes more to carnation-heavy feminine classics such as Caron’s Bellodgia and YSL Opium than to La Nuit.

 

The opening also diverges from its inspiration by plumping for the botanical freshness of a kitchen garden over the rather dated narcissus greenness of the original.  The opening is juicy and fresh – clusters of orange, rose, mint, and white jasmine, freshly picked and with dew still on them.  A striking artemisia note offers the kind of green bitterness that you can almost feel on your tongue.  Going into this expecting a re-do of the immediately funky La Nuit, I was surprised and charmed by this freshness.  It is a diversion, but a clever one, serving to juxtapose what comes next.

 

In Act Two, Al Lail promptly shakes off the sunny innocence of its ‘ripped from nature’ topnotes and settles into a smoky carnation and oakmoss gunpowder, the jasmine deepening into black marker pen indole.  The notes all dry up into a floral potpourri of dried carnation and rose petals, with a note in the background that smells pleasantly of yellowing book paper.

 

Stuffed to the brim with greasy, vintage-style musks, there is almost a suffocating effect to the perfume that reminds me of Charogne by État Libre d’Orange.  Wearing it chokes me slightly, like a mink stole tightened too carelessly around my throat, or the acrid fug of air that rushes out at you in a bar that still allows smoking.

 

Al Lail smells less like La Nuit and more like Bellodgia and Tabac Blond with their spicy, powdery clove-tinted glove leather.  However, that reference leaves out the most crucial piece of information, which is that this powdered carnation-leather accord is wrapped up tight in a straitjacket of rude musks, civet, and salty, grungy body odor – a sort of animalic distortion of the Caron ideal.

 

The heavily musky ‘old’ honey accord in the base is very similar to that of Sohan d’Iris, so if you love that one, you may also love Al Lail.  Personally, I could never wear Al Lail, for pretty much the same reason I cannot wear La Nuit – while I appreciate the genius of their construction, their heavy animalism is hard to wear elegantly.  However, my tolerance for animalics might be lower than yours, in which case, take the chance.

 

All in all, Al Lail is a proper little stinker made with love for those who revere the huge, floral-animalic fragrances of the past such as Ubar by Amouage, Joy parfum by Patou, Jasmin Eugenie Impératrice by Creed, and indeed any of the older Carons (especially Acaciosa and Bellodgia).  Just imagine any of these scents with their current filthiness multiplied by a factor of ten and you have an idea of where Al Lail stands on the old skank-o-meter.

 

 

 

Al Maqam Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al Maqam Blend is a limited edition perfume oil produced to commemorate ASAQ’s Diamond Jubilee.  In my experience, the words ‘rare’ or ‘limited supply’ do not necessarily translate to amazing, and unfortunately, this is the case here.  Al Maqam Blend is perfectly nice but does not reach the exceptional heights that some of the other blends in the ASAQ range.  And at this price, it really should.

 

The basic structure of the scent involves an amorphous blur of flowers over a base of sweetish amber and musk, with a blob of oud making a shy appearance and then absconding far too soon.  What flowers or fruits, exactly?  It is hard to tell.  But the sticky, bubblegummy fruitiness of the opening suggest the presence of ASAQ’s gooey jasmine and orange blossom jam, a blend that seems to bulk out many of the house’s lower-priced oils.

 

ASAQ lists wildflowers as part of the blend, but since real meadows are in short supply in Saudi Arabia, it is reasonable to assume that this particular bouquet of flowers was birthed in a test tube.   In general, whenever you see wildflowers listed for an ASAQ blend, it is shorthand for a fruity-musky blur of flowers that could be anything from freesia to jasmine.  The amber-musk base is pleasantly ‘fuzzy’ in texture, but not in the least bit distinctive.  It also does nothing to counteract the tremendous sweetness of the florals.

 

Midway through, a smoky oud note appears, briefly giving the fruity florals a sheen of something respectably woody.  More reminiscent of the scent of agarwood chips being heated on an incense burner than the scent of the oil, the oud note comes across as attractively dry and smoky. Somewhat similar to the smoky oud woodchip nuance in Dior’s Leather Oud and Guerlain’s Songe d’Un Bois d’Eté, but far less animalic, this note is the high point of the scent.  This is also the only time it feels like someone over the age of twenty-one could viably pull it off.  Too soon, however, the oud notes float right out of the scent, leaving behind a trail of sugary white florals over a generic, musky amber.  Al Maqam is an uneven, even frustrating experience.  When it is good, it is very, very good, but when it is bad, it is wicked.

 

 

 

Al Sharquiah (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

This is for those nights when you want to leave a loud, sweet fug of rose and oud in the air as a calling card for the opposite sex. It is about as subtle as a baboon’s arse, but there is something about the sweet, sour, and rotting notes in Al Sharquiah that gets people to lean in and sniff you twice.  It smells like the fumes from a bag of slowly rotting Medjool dates mingling with oud, wilted roses, cooked rose jam, a hint of metallic smoke, and a bit of funk in the base courtesy of spiced-up woods.

 

Although it is admittedly a quick snapshot of all the major themes in Arabian perfumery rather than the full deck, Al Sharquiah is a reasonable substitute for far more expensive Western takes on the rose-oud theme, such as Rose Nacrée du Desert by Guerlain or Velvet Rose & Oud by Jo Malone.  All for four dollars a bottle?  Hell yeah.  I’ll have me some of that, thank you very much.

 

 

 

Al Ta’if Rose Nakhb Al Arous (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: essential oil

 

 

This was the first pure rose oil I ever tried, and it was a surprise to me in many ways.  By pure, I mean that it was derived through slowly distilling Ta’ifi roses in the traditional manner, syringing the pure, clear oil off the hydrosol after distillation, and storing the resulting otto in a small leather flacon to rest and mature.

 

Ta’ifi roses are gathered at first morning light, before the sun causes the flowers to open fully, thus preserving their immensely fresh, spicy, green scent.  Harvesting is an enormously labor-intensive process, requiring rose petals from 30-50 roses to produce just one drop of pure rose otto[i].  Al Shareef Oudh clarifies that: ‘For the pickers there is no time to lose; it is a race against time. As the blazing sun rises and moves higher the harsh rays cause precious oils to evaporate, so much so that by mid-day unpicked roses contain only half of the oil they had at dawn’[ii].

 

Smelled up close, the oil smells surprisingly nothing like what you expect a rose to smell like –which makes sense given that a rose is made up of over 500 different aroma compounds.  The two main ‘flavor’ constituents of rose are geraniol and citronellal, which smell sharply ‘green’ and sharply ‘citric’ respectively.  Thus, when I smell Al Ta’if Rose Nakhb Al Arous up close, I mostly smell a piercing lemony note and a lurid green note.  These notes present so acidic that it feels like you just peeled a lemon and squirted it into your eye.

 

The aroma is jagged, and almost animalic in its spiciness.  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  I am willing to wager good money that in a blind smelling test, most people would never guess that this was rose – at least not right away.

 

Forty minutes in, the brightness fades and the first notes that we collectively understand as ‘rose’ begin to coalesce on the skin, clustering the individual building blocks of honey, lemon, geranium, cinnamon, and pink petal notes used to construct a rose aroma in modern perfumery.  Unfortunately, pure rose ottos are extremely volatile and short-lived, so this glorious trajectory is cut short, the scent disappearing through the skin barrier and into the bloodstream within the hour.  Still, to experience real beauty, no matter how ephemeral, is always a blessing.

 

 

 

Aroosah (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

How can marigolds be indolic?  Well, in Aroosah, as you will see, they just are.  Fresh, earthy, slightly bitter – all the hallmarks of tagetes are there in the topnotes, giving off a brief impression of a freshly-cleaned toilet.  But as the fragrance unfolds, so too does a wave of oily indoles similar to those clinging to the inside of Easter lilies, the smell of life and death repeating on itself like a bad meal.

 

In the later stages of the oil’s development, a heavily-greased almond undertone begins to intrude on proceedings, making things infinitely worse.  If you’ve been manfully suffering through the experience thus far, then brace yourself, Bridget.  The almond note, when paired with the grassy hay notes from the chamomile, marigold, and saffron, presents the nose with a real challenge: pungency.

 

Aroosah is not fresh or natural-smelling in the least, being far more redolent of bathroom cleaning detergents than anything botanical in origin.  Nonetheless, its soapy, medicinal-herbal aroma is authentically Indian in nature.  Not for the faint of heart, or indeed, stomach.

 

 

 

Asala Murakkaz (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Asala Murakkaz is a nice if not particularly impressive mukhallat situated at the lower end of the Arabian Oud price range.  It opens with a pleasingly sweet, almost honeyed mix of florals, notably orange blossom and rose, accentuated with a fruity (peachy) undertone.

 

This is not a narcotic floral extravaganza built in the old manner, but rather a playful, modern take.  I can see this appealing tremendously to young women who love the clean, musky sweetness of fruitchoulis and gourmand florals such as Miss Dior Cherie.  The honeyed florals merge with a plush ‘pink’ musk in the far drydown, for a result that leans more towards a mass market Western fragrance than anything more authentically Eastern in nature.  Oh, and in case you were worried – zero oud in evidence here.  Asala Murakkaz is strictly for fans of candied, musky florals denuded of any rude bits or sharp edges.

 

 

 

Ashjan (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ashjan marries an orange-tinted rose to a heavy musk that runs right up to the edge of animalic before pulling back at the last moment.  The rose notes are juicy and dessert-like, forming a mouthwatering counterpoint to the velvety, thickly-furred musk.  Given its heavy-breathing character, Ashjan is perhaps not the best choice to be worn in polite company, but it is one to consider if you need something frankly suggestive for the third date.  (Of course, this is all moot, because Ashjan is near to impossible to find now).

 

 

 

Asrar (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Asrar is a pot of orange blossom-scented marmalade, heavily spiced with saffron, left to desiccate, uncovered, on a shelf in the larder until only fruit leather remains.  In the first hour or so, it is syrupy and densely-spiced to the point of being overwhelming. Orange blossom is not listed anywhere in the notes but take my word for it – Asrar is orange blossom boiled down into a medicinal unguent so sweet that it is bitter.  The astringent woodiness of saffron and oud cuts through the waterfall of syrup somewhat, for a pungent undertone that is necessary as an opposing force.

 

Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for the attar to loosen the stays on its restrictive orange blossom-honey corset, allowing a bright, winey rose to bloom in the background.  The rose expands to fill the room, joining forces with a dark, woody oud note to form a traditional rose-oud accord.  It is at this point that the attar smells like a gourmand-ish take on Montale’s Black Aoud.  The slightly candied, juicy quality in this stage of Asrar’s development is an appealing update to a rather tired template.

 

Hours in, the scent seems to do a volte face, morphing into a smoky, woodsy affair centering around a nugget of vetiver, cedar, and leather.  This part of the attar is almost charcoal-matte in effect.  In summary, Asrar kind of smells like a dab of Tribute on the tail end of Serge Lutens’ Fleur d’Oranger, with a brief detour to Black Aoud territory in the middle.  Whether this payoff is worth trudging through the tiresome syrup clogging the veins of the scent’s the first hour is up to you.  Plenty of people hold Asrar in as high regard as Homage or Tribute, but for me, the opening is too treacly to enjoy.  Still, there is no denying that Asrar is one of Amouage’s most characterful attars.

 

 

 

Atifa Blanche (Al Haramain)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Blanche is an excellent word to describe this scent.  It is indeed a ‘white’ scent.  There is something so softly chewy about the topnotes of Atifa Blanche that I instantly visualized the scent as a white silk pillowcase stuffed with flower petals, marshmallows, meringues, and clouds of whipped cream.  It has the straight-forward beauty of a bride coming down the aisle, the sunlight behind her framing her head in an impossible halo of light.

 

The oil opens with a trio of sparkling citrus notes – mandarin, lemon, and lime peel – their sharpness nicely rounded out by the slightly creamy lily and rose.  There is also a noticeable lipstick note in the heart, thanks to a touch of violet.  Think the same ballpark as Chanel Misia (which is more matronly) or Putain des Palaces (which is skankier) – big, violet-y powder puff scents.  Atifa Blanche has a weird, doughy cashmeran note that distinguishes it as something that does a bit more than just lookin’ pretty.

 

No tuberose or jasmine, to my poor nose, but yes to a hint of rubbery, fertile ylang.  Still, there is nothing sub-tropical or Big White Floral in feel here.  If the white flowers are here, then they are have been sheared of all indole, sharpness, and that lingering ‘ladies-who-lunch’ element that seems to cling to the genre.  Atifa Blanche is a fresh, steam-cleaned floral that favors the lipsticky combination of rose and violet over its heavier white floral components.

 

The notes list an ozonic accord in the topnotes, but there is nothing overtly aquatic here, unless you share Luca Turin’s perception of lily as saltwater-ish.  The only real complaint that can be laid at its door is that it is slightly too squeaky clean, and a bit chemically cheap, with a muskiness that feels a bit like a freshly-starched collar.  However, bathed in this radiant aura of sweet lipstick wax, Atifa Blanche can be forgiven almost anything.  It is both innocently retro and almost (but not quite) edible.  A hundred times better than By Killian Love

 

 

 

Ayoon al Maha (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ayoon al Maha is a gently powdery take on the traditional attar smell of sandalwood and roses.  It takes a fresh, tart damask rose and grafts it onto a dusty-creamy sandalwood rootstock.  The opening is bright and lush, the green and citrusy facets of rosa damascena brought forward for their moment in the sun.  The opening feels quite traditional in that it is true to the scent of the Bulgarian rose, an aroma with which many will be familiar from their childhood.  More English in feel than Arabian, therefore – at least at the beginning.

 

In the base, a lightly toasted, buttery sandalwood note nips at the sharp, fresh rose, covering it in cream and brown sugar.  This is likely not pure vintage Mysore sandalwood oil but rather, a good quality santalum album oil boosted with an enhancer like Sandalore (its voice rings out a little louder and sweeter than that of pure, natural sandalwood oil).

 

Nonetheless, Ayoon al Maha is a truly enjoyable sandalwood experience with a rich, almost caramelized facet that will make your mouth water.  There is supposedly some oud oil here, but its presence is so subtle that it is not worth mentioning.  Anyone looking for a beautiful rendition of the sandal-rose attar theme should make sampling (or even blind buying) Ayoon al Maha a priority.

 

 

 

About Me:  A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes.  (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world).  Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery.   Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud.  But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay.  In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.

 

Source of samples: I purchased samples from Hyde & Alchemy, Majid Muzaffar Iterji, Al Haramain, Amouage, Al Rehab, and Arabian Oud.  The samples from Abdul Samad al Qurashi, KyaraZen, Clive Christian, and Sultan Pasha were sent to me free of charge either by the brand or a distributor.

 

 

Note on monetization: My blog is not monetized.  But if you’d like to support my work or show appreciation for any of the content I put out, you can always buy me a coffee using the little buymeacoffee button.  Thank you! 

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

[i]Andrea Butje, The Heart of Aromatherapy (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc., 2017), 6, via Aroma Web at https://www.aromaweb.com/articles/essential-oil-yields.asp

[ii]http://www.alshareefoudh.com/product-detail.php?product_id=14

 

Hay Iris Leather Musk Patchouli Review Spicy Floral Violet

Le Labo Iris 39: A Review (Sort of)

15th October 2021

 

I have yet to come across a review that captures what Le Labo Iris 39 smells like to me, so I’m going to take a run at it myself.  Despite the advertised violets and iris, Iris 39 doesn’t smell sunlit, or powdery, or even floral in the traditional sense.  To me, it smells utterly abstract, a nigh-on impenetrable wedge of industrial cement and toner ink mixed with mud-caked flower bulbs, fuzzed up at the edges with a carbolic soap (patchouli-musk) accord that wears on you like a rain-soaked wool sweater.

 

I’ve noticed that the earlier Le Labo perfumes – Patchouli 24, Oud 27, Santal 33, Iris 39 – all feature this interesting tension between something natural-smelling and something ‘pleasantly chemical’, i.e., the vaporous head-spin of industrial materials like hot glue, ink, magazine paper, or burning rubber.  Perhaps this is what makes these perfumes so distinctive.  Later Le Labo output (The Noir 29, Tonka 25, Another 13) shoot for the same complexity but lean too hard on harsh woody ambers, Ambroxan, etc., thereby landing on the ‘bad chemical’ mat rather than the ‘good chemical’ one.  You know what I mean, right? A good chemical smell to me is the honest honk of fresh newspaper ink or spilled petrol or the school supply closet.  A million miles away from those powerful woody ambers like Amber Extreme or Norlimbanol that are (over) used in perfumery these days to make a scent enormously radiant or long-lasting.

 

So there you have it. Part of Iris 39 that makes me feel like a hippy who’s spent the afternoon planting out tubers in a wet garden, while the other makes me feel like I’m getting a semi-high from hanging around the office printer while they’re changing the cartridges.  Mostly, though, I think it’s just one of those thick, murky ‘soups’ of a perfume that are vaguely resistant to analysis, like Mitsouko (Guerlain) or Kintsugi (Masque Milano) – perfumes that are simultaneously harsh and organic.  Wearing Iris 39 gives me a physical jolt akin to being so hungry for the first bite of something that, even before it’s fully tasted, your mouth waters so suddenly it’s almost painful. 

 

Source of sample: Various samples, decants, and finally a full bottle, all of which I purchased myself.

 

Image:    Photo by Darklabs India on Unsplash  

 

    

Balsamic Coniferous Green Independent Perfumery Oud Review Violet Woods

Ormonde Elixir by Ormonde Jayne: A Review

31st August 2021

Ormonde Elixir is 45% Ormonde Woman, 45% Ormonde Man, and 10% oud oil.  I’m not mad at those percentages. The oud smells like the real deal has been used, and in more than holistic quantities too. The notes say Cambodi, but it smells like a hyper-smooth blend of Cambodi and Hindi oud to me, with the hot, bilious pleather of a Hindi (Hermès saddles buried under dirty straw) rubbing shoulders with the honeyed, berried undertone of a Cambodi (undiluted cranberry cordial) until the platonic ideal of the aroma profile that most people would think of as ‘oudy’ emerges. The oud imbues Woman’s lovely face with a menacing five-o-clock shadow, which is no mean feat given that Woman was already a moody black-green to start with. It punches Woman up a few notches, giving it a pungent, almost feral depth, without sacrificing any of the original’s gym-honed sleekness or its distinctive treacle-tart amber base.

In short, Ormonde Elixir is the Platinum card upgrade to the Gold of the original Woman. And it is absolutely beautiful. If you’re starting out and you want to own just one of the Woman/Man series (and have the money to spend), then this right here is the smoothest, deepest, and more luxe version of the series. However, if you already own either Ormonde Woman or Ormonde Man, then you own 90% of Ormonde Elixir. Personally, I’ve reached the ‘more sense than money’ stage of this hobby, so a sample of Elixir is enough to satisfy the itch. 

 

Source of Sample: A 1ml sample purchased from Neroli, Budapest.

Photo by Sleep Music on Unsplash

Balsamic Citrus Coffee Collection Cult of Raw Materials Floral Fougere Green Floral Incense Independent Perfumery Iris Jasmine Lavender Leather Musk Oriental Osmanthus Oud Resins Review Rose Round-Ups Saffron Sandalwood Smoke Spice Spicy Floral Thoughts Violet White Floral Woods

Areej Le Doré Agar de Noir, Musk Lave, Cuir de Russie, Grandenia, & Santal Galore

28th September 2020

The challenge for any reviewer in reviewing the Areej Le Doré releases is that (a) either you’re late and the perfumes you’re writing about are no longer available to buy, or (b) you’re on time for a full bottle release, but you are talking only to the group of three to six hundred people that are buying them, a tiny circle of devotees that seems to get tighter and more closed-off with each successive release from the house.

I can certainly see why many people in perfume-land might be attracted by the fantastic raw materials on offer by Areej Le Doré but turned off by the feverish fandom that has sprung up around the brand. If you’re not willing to set your timer to bumfuck o’ clock Thailand time or duke it out with the scalpers, then the whole thing can feel like the most fearsome clique from high school. And when anyone feels excluded, there is the natural tendency to grumble to yourself, “Well, if I’m not in, then I’m sure as hell out…of this hot, culty mess.”   

While this is certainly not a problem for Areej Le Doré itself – selling everything you produce is the dream, after all – I wonder if the lack of new entrants into the inner circle of devotees represents a problem over the longer term. Fresh perspectives on your work are essential whether you are making a car or a perfume because they stop you from drowning in the reflecting pool of constant and uncritical adoration. They also safeguard the perfumer against the danger of becoming essentially a private label or custom outfit dancing to the whim of a small but intimidatingly vocal group of buyers, none of whom I’d particularly like to meet in a dark alley. Just kidding, just kidding (sort of).

Anyway, this review goes out to anyone who has an interest in Areej Le Doré fragrances but has, for one reason or another, avoided actually buying them, either in sample or full bottle form. This might be someone who loves natural raw materials, for example, or someone who loves and misses the rich orientals of yesteryear that boasted real sandalwood or expensive floral absolutes. Or it might be people who are into perfumes in general and have the money to invest in the really good examples, but zero stomach for the clusterfuckery around the brand itself. If that’s you, and you’re reading right now, then let me tell you that this particular Areej Le Doré collection is the one to dip your toes into, if you were reluctant before.

Here’s why I think this collection is a good entry point for newcomers to Areej Le Doré. First, the perfumes in this collection are noticeably lighter and more refined than previous cycles, making them easier and more pleasant to wear, especially for women.

Second, none of the perfumes in this collection are marred by the heavy, almost seedy animalic undertone that has dogged other collections. For example, I loved Plumeria de Orris from one of the previous collections, however, once the buttery orris and frangipani burned off, the fragrance was dragged under the gutters by a honeyed civet or musk that smelled disturbingly like dried saliva. Koh-i-Noor was my absolute favorite of a previous generation, but a greasy costus-laden musk gave it an old-man’s-crotch vibe that I couldn’t quite shake. But in this collection, even the musk- and oud-heavy perfumes are not overly heavy, greasy, or saliva-ish.

Third, and probably the most important one: I think that this collection is Russian Adam’s best yet. If you don’t know already, each Areej Le Doré collection usually contains variations on a basic line-up of a (i) musk (usually natural deer musk-based), (ii) an oud, (iii) a humongous mixed oriental floral, (iv) a ‘soliflore’, (v) an ambergris, and/or (vi) a leather or sandalwood. Although there doesn’t seem to be an ambergris-focused scent this time around, the others are all either superlative or really good examples of their respective ‘theme’. If you love natural raw materials like oud and sandalwood, then pull up a chair: brands like Areej Le Doré are the last holdout for exquisite raw materials in a world that is increasingly sanitized and lab-molecule-dependent.   

Image by DEZALB from Pixabay

Rather confusingly, Santal Galore is the kaleidoscopic floral nag champa extravaganza this time around, rather than the sandalwood you might be expecting (which is actually to be found in the equally-confusingly-named Musk Lave). My vial leaked in transit, but after smashing it open and swabbing the gooey remnants onto my skin with a Q-Tip, I can tell you that this is the one I’d crawl over hot coals to smell again. Oh God, grant me the unlimited funds to buy the few perfumes that smell as good as this. It opens with a big, creamy swirl of aromas that you imagine emanating from a Persian carpet or a well-oiled antique from a souk, soaked in multiple generations’ worth of glossy, fruity Cambodi oud oils, rosy-sandal attars, and the sweetness of smoke from decades of burning Indian Chandan sticks and barkhour.

This perfume carries that full romantic sweep of Orientalia in its bosom that Westerners like me find so irresistible but that usually come out mawkish and kind of cheap-smelling. Santal Galore deftly matches the slightly gummy-floral sweetness of nag champa with a savory cream cheese background that seems to encompass the smoked Easter Ham aroma of guaiacol and a salty-minty oakmoss. Eventually winding down to the lovely smell of a freshly-struck match, Santal Galore performs the same trick as Santal de Mysore in that it is suggestive of the spiced warmth of real sandalwood without smelling directly of it.   

For my personal taste, this is the best floral/woody/musky thing that Areej Le Doré has ever done. There are no analogs in the commercial or niche world, so it’s difficult to draw comparisons that will make sense to those new to the brand. But if pushed, I would mention Le Maroc Pour Elle (Tauer Perfumes) or Daphne (Comme des Garcons) as scents that occupy the same scentoverse ideologically speaking.  Less helpfully perhaps for newcomers, but more so for people who have bought into the brand since its inception, Santal Galore is roughly in the same ballpark as Ottoman Empire, with which it shares a similar nag champa floral richness, and Koh-I-Noor, for that same almost claustrophobic rush of dense, heavily-packed-in floral notes and that texture that is both creamy and powdery (although Santal Galore is not as animalic or as costus-laden).  It has been a while, but there could also be a line drawn to the sharp, almost oily Flux de Fleurs, though Santal Galore is a far gentler, rounder affair.

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Musk Lave has one of the best real sandalwood finishes I have smelled outside of attar and mukhallat perfumery. For fans of real sandalwood, the real treasure lies here, and not in Santal Galore. But be aware that this is the type of musky, spicy, masculine-leaning sandalwood that used to feature in high quality ‘barbershop’ fougères before Indian sandalwood became generally unavailable to commercial perfumery in the late eighties, and before entire carpets of beige, sweetish tonka bean were conscripted to fill the gap.

In other words, though it certainly smells rich and incensey, like all good sandalwood should, this sandalwood is the handsome, rugged version that smells more like good wood and bay rum spices than a creamy dessert that will send you into a stupor. The invigorating sparkle of the sandalwood is beefed up by a nice lump of labdanum, so you get the full balance of aromatic-dry and sweet-incensey that the very best examples of sandalwood possess, e.g., the Mysore 1984 by Ensar Oud, which, because it is aged, has developed that rich, incensey sonic boom ‘loudness of voice’ that would be most unusual for a pure sandalwood more freshly distilled.

Winding back to the start, Musk Lave opens with a fresh, powdery lemon and lavender accord, which would be a naturally lean kind of thing were it not for the immediate upswell of an unctuously buttery musk or tonka that adds richness, like a pat of yellow Irish butter melted over a salad. Think Jicky but with real sandalwood and musk dialled in for that naughty ‘skin musk’ feel, writing over the rather sharp, sometimes foul-smelling synthetic civet of the Guerlain. Given that Jicky is my favorite fragrance in the world, hopefully you’ll take my word for it that Musk Lave is the upgrade nobody knew was in the wings but immediately presses the install button on.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Agar de Noir (can’t you just feel Luca Turin squirming?) is the oud in the collection and is quite the departure for Russian Adam for two reasons. First, although the oud is the real deal, it does not smell like any one particular terroir or style of oud (as opposed to Antiquity, which smelled almost entirely of the beautiful Cambodi oud oil used) but rather presents as a generalized picture of ‘oudiness’ that’s been cleaned up for public consumption. So, you get the characteristic smell of damp, fermenting wood chips and the dusty scent of old wood varnish, but not the shriekingly sour hay and leather highnotes of a Hindi, or the hyper-treacly stickiness of a Trat, or the wolf-fur wooliness and ambergris-saltiness of a Chinese oud. The oud is there merely as a signpost planted in the scent to suck you deep into the shadows, where the equally dusty darkness of ground coffee is waiting, deepening the gloom.

The opening reminds me more of Borneo 1834 (Serge Lutens) than any of the other Areej Le Dore oud-dominated fragrances, due to that ‘brown’ dustiness; Oud Luwak also used coffee as a note, but it felt much more like an oud-focused affair than Agar de Noir, which feels more floral. It does share with Oud Luwak that dark, airy elegance of structure – like an expensive bar of chocolate that makes a satisfyingly clean ‘snap’ noise when you break it. The gloom of these brown notes has been lifted by the chalky brightness of violets, which create a sort of pastel-colored clearing in the Agar de Noir forest. I like the civilizing effect the violets exert on the oud: they add an unexpected foppish lightness that could be read, in some lights, as ‘dandified’. This tangy, balmy oud-and-violet accord makes what is essentially a floral leather sort of thing – like Jolie Madame (Balmain) with an oudy twist.

The second way in which I find Agar de Noir a departure is in its overall lightness of feel. The light-on-dark, violet-on-oud-leather thing is super elegant while it lasts but after two hours, the show is essentially over, save for the cinder toffee-like sweetness of the labdanum that brings up the rear.

The labdanum persists for hours beyond this, of course – it is a traditional basenote for a reason and has been the finish of choice for Russian Adam in all his oud blends after Oud Zen. But compared to Russian Oud and Oud Piccante, the labdanum absolute used here is of a much lighter weight – a judicious smear of incensey, golden toffee, but unencumbered by the sheep fat unctuousness of the labdanum in Oud Piccante or the chocolatey amberiness in Russian Oud. Personally, this ‘middle’ weight of labdanum suits me just fine; Oud Piccante is too savory-fatty for my tastes, and Russian Oud too gourmand. Agar de Noir is lighter, shorter, more attenuated, and is all the better for it. However, oud heads who want their oud to be perceptible past the third hour mark, Agar de Noir might be one sacrifice too far in the name of elegance.

For anyone not already inducted into the Areej Le Doré oud hall of fame mentioned here, just picture an oudified Jolie Madame and you’re on the right track. I think this would also be a particularly friendly oud for beginners, and because of its soft, ‘thin’ floral mien that restrains the brutishness of the oud, it may also be a better pick for women. Dark, dapper, and mysterious in a Victorian gentle-person kind of way, Agar de Noir is my pick of the Areej ouds, barring Oud Zen, which was similarly minimalist and ‘legible’.         

Image by Pitsch from Pixabay

Grandenia suggests that it might be going big on the famously creamy, mushroomy lushness of gardenia, but this is not the case. Rather, this is a tightly-wound, stiffly-starched green floral that starts out at the data point of a citrusy-piney frankincense – a resin that here smells like a freshly-stripped piece of Silver Birch – and winds up in Chandrika soap territory.

I find this pinched, freshly-scrubbed sort of floral a chore to wear, but it may appeal to people who like Antonia by Puredistance. I also want to acknowledge that this would be a good white floral for men, as it is completely devoid of the soft, candied creaminess and tinned-fruit syrupiness of most white florals. It is clipped and pure; the sort of thing to stiffen the spine. A very good wood accord develops in the base that smells more like sandalwood soap than oud or sandalwood per se. And then, finally, in the last gasps – a ghostly imprint of gardenia, with that slightly glassy, freshly-cut-mushroom quality it shares with myrrh.

Image by HG-Fotografie from Pixabay

Cuir de Russie is a scent to spray on fabric rather than on your skin, but I have done both to no ill effect (if you have sensitive skin, just obey the damn instructions). This is not the Chanel kind of Cuir de Russie (Russian Leather), but rather, a leather-ish note in a minor key nestled inside a massively cheesy and then baby-powdery deer musk. On the skin, the chalky, innocent pallor of violets peeks out shyly, but not to the extent where you would define the scent as floral (or feminine, or soft, or indeed any of the usual descriptors used for flowers). On fabric, it is the rude, smeary honk of deer musk that dominates, stepping firmly down on the neck of any floral note that threatens to make a break for it.

Given that Cuir de Russie has real deer musk in it, it stands to reason that it is very, very powdery and clings to the inside of the nostrils for days. If you want to know what real deer musk smells like, by the way, please read my article ‘The Murky Matter of Muskhere. Many people think that real musk smells foul or fecal. It does not. It does smell intimate, like the morning breath of someone you love, or a clean perineum, but it is more often than not quiet, powdery, and quite sweet, its odor clinging to skin, hair, and fabrics for many days (deer musk was one of the four great animalic fixatives of perfumery).

The musk in Cuir de Russie is somewhat similar to the musk in War and Peace, which I loved for the way its musk was so dry that it smelled like smoke from a just-fired gun (some people interpreted the dryness as baby powder). But Cuir de Russie also doesn’t have the almost pretty smuttiness of the musk in War and Peace, nor its sultry sweetness; it is more butch and a bit rough around the edges, despite the inch-thick layer of powder.   

I like Cuir de Russie but wouldn’t particularly recommend it to a newcomer seeking an entry point to the brand. There’s always the danger that leather fans might roll up and expect leather (crazy, right?) and right now, before the full whack of aging and maceration, Cuir de Russie is mostly musk. Birch tar fans, of which I am one, might be disappointed at its subtlety in CdR – there is zero BBQ meat or ‘just threw a leather jacket on a campfire’ smokiness here. Cuir de Russie is primarily a very rich, powdery musk that ultimately leans a bit too hard on the intrinsic complexity of its naturals to fill in the olfactory blanks.

This is probably going to mature into something stunning, along the lines of Koh-i-Noor. But it is a high risk investment for a bottle of something whose materials might veer off into directions that not even its perfumer can predict with 100% certainty. For those signed up to the rare natural materials pledge, this is is part of the thrill; for the rest of us, contained within the unfixed, mutable nature of these raw materials is the warning that the perfume might also change for the worse.  

Source of Samples: Kindly sent to me free of charge by the brand. My opinion are my own.

Cover Image: Thanapat Pirmphol from Pixabay